Saturday, 20 September 2014

Summer House with Swimming Pool

As soon as I began reading this novel, I was struck by how much the prose reminded me of Vladimir Nbokov's Lolita. There is the narcissistic narrator, almost proud of his repulsive character, there's the sense of sexual wrongdoing, there's the plot, which constantly makes you question your morals.

Narrated by a professionally frustrated family doctor to the stars in Holland, March Schloss, the story weaves it's way through pivotal months in his and his family's life.

Part domestic thriller, part traditional literary fiction, The Summer House with Swimming Pool  is about moral dilemmas just like Lolita, and Koch's previous novel, The Dinner. Also just as in that novel, we soon realise almost no one in the story is innocent, or doesn't have something to hide, or is thoroughly selfish, or unlikeable (in itself not a crime). 

The main character, March Schloss, is a doctor, and the inner thoughts he reveals to us are what we all fear; that doctors are only human and as such detest having to inspect hairy bottoms, or have sick people cough phlegm at their face. What Dr Schloss has to tell us none us want to hear. We soon realise that Dr Schloss' world view is more skewed than normal and largely  based on the biology lectures of a discredited professor. But as the plot unwinds, we come to realise our narrator does have reason to be unhinged and we begin to understand why he carries such rage within him. But does his situation justify his actions? 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this powerful novel. It's shocking, and at times even a difficult read, but Koch's skilful writing makes the effort worthwhile in the end. I couldn't recommend this book highly enough.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Scotland votes 'No'!

Out of a hap-penance, the Englishman and I have been in Scotland during this historic time when the country decided on its future.

We'd been invited for a weekend of fly fishing on the Scottish Borders (him on the river, me tucked up in the house by an open fire writing), so I decided to kill two birds by taking a week's holiday and adding some time to do research for the sequel to The Englishman. The novel is partly set in Helensburgh, so I needed to 'smell the air' and get the sense of the place again. But we also decided to take a nostalgic look at Edinburgh, a city where we spent a very happy six weeks some 30 years ago.

A selfie outside our favourite Italian

delicatessen in Edinburgh,

Valvona & Crolla

What became immediately noticeable was how engaged everyone was in the the looming vote on Independence. In Edinburgh as well as in Helensburgh people were talking politics on the street, in cafes and pubs. There were both 'Yes' and 'No' signs, as well as Scottish and British flags, everywhere.

An Edinburgh household clearly supporting

a 'No' vote.

On the whole, the discussions seemed heated but good natured, and the only signs of political passion gone too far were a few defaced 'No Thank You' -signs placed on lamp posts and on fields around the countryside. In Queensferry I was accosted by a 'Yes' voter for sporting a 'No' sticker, but again, it was fairly good humoured banter rather than angry show of aggression. (The guy was also very good-looking, so I really didn't mind...)

The Forth railway bridge in Queensferry was stunning.

As a Finn, I can understand why a small country like Scotland would wish to be independent. However, as a student of Political Science and Economics, I couldn't comprehend how Scotland would manage on its own after so many years being part of the United Kingdom. There were so many questions left unanswered about foreign policy, taxes, health care, pensions and so on.

Politics aside, I feel privileged to have been here when the Scottish vote was cast and am - I have to admit - quite relieved about the result.

The Yes and No campaigners are almost indistinguishable

in Helensburgh

Friday, 29 August 2014


I am so excited to be able to share the English-speaking cast of this new Moomin film, announced in Helsinki today, with you. I'm particularly excited about Russell Tovey and the local North London stand-up comic, Dominic Frisby. I cannot wait to see the film!

The hand drawn animation feature Moomins on the Riviera’s English cast is revealed:

Award winning British actor Russell Tovey (The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Grabbers, Being Human, Him and Her) plays Moomin. Nathaniel Parker (Merlin, Stardust, The Haunted Mansion, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and Tracy Ann Oberman (EastEnders, Filth) play Moominpappa and Moominmamma respectively. Stephanie Winiecki, in her first major movie role, plays Snorkmaiden. 
The irrepressible Little My is played by Ruth Gibson. Philippe Smolikowski is Moominpappa’s new best friend, the wannabe artist, Marquis Mongaga. Dave Browne plays the upper-crust playboy Clark Tresco, who sets his sights on Snorkmaiden. Shelley Blond (Tomb Rider video game, Cruise of Gods) plays Audrey Glamour, the Hollywood actress, idolised by Snorkmaiden.
Other roles are played by Dominic Frisby (The Inbetweeners Movie), Ian Conningham, Alison O’Donnell, Bernard Alane, Bruno Magnes, Maria Sid, Beata Harju, Andy Turvey, Kris Gummerus, Glyn Banks, Lee Willis, Sanna-June Hyde, Christopher Sloan and Leslie Hyde.
You can watch the English trailer at:

MOOMINS ON THE RIVIERA, based on the original comic strips by the celebrated author, painter and illustrator Tove Jansson, is a bitter-sweet adventure taking the Moomin familyfrom their beloved Moominvalley to the glamorous Riviera, where Moominpappa befriends an aristocrat and adopts the name ‘de Moomin’,  where Snorkmaiden is dazzled by the attentions of a playboy and Moomin learns that jealousy’s sting is the most painful of all. For the very first time, the unity of the Moomins is threatened.
A Finnish/French co-production, the film is directed by Xavier Picard and produced by Hanna Hemilä.                

Monday, 25 August 2014

Thai style pork meatballs with noodles in a fragrant broth

For some reason I've been craving Thai flavoured pork meatballs for some time, and I love noodles, so combining red curry paste and herbs, I made up this recipe. It was so good and popular with Daughter and The Englishman, I thought I'd share it with you.

The meatballs can be cooked in the oven on a non-stick oven tray, or be fried in a heavy based pan (in which case roll the meatballs in little plain flour before frying in hot vegetable oil).

For the meatballs you need:

  • 500 grammes minced pork
  • 1 egg
  • 3 water chestnuts, chopped
  • 2-3 spring onions
  • handful of fresh coriander
  • 1 red chilli (seeds removed)
  • I glove of garlic crushed
  • 1 cm piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 2 teaspoons of sesame oil 
  • 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoon of oyster sauce
Blitz spring onion, coriander, chilli, chopped water chestnuts, garlic and ginger in a food processor until finely chopped. 

Mix the minced pork with all the ingredients including the egg and form into about 16 balls. Bake in 180 c oven for 20 minutes. (Or coat in flour and fry in small batches.)

For the noodles in fragrant broth you need:

  • one teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1.5 tablespoon red Thai curry paste,
  • tin of coconut milk
  • 1.5 litres of vegetable stock
  • 250 grammes packet of medium egg noodles
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • A carrot cut into matchsticks
  • 3 chestnut mushrooms thinly sliced
  • Spring onion, cut in half and finely sliced
  • Handful of coriander, finely chopped
  • Lime juice to taste
  • Thai basil, finely chopped
While the pork meatballs are cooking, start preparing the broth and noodles. Heat oil in a large pan and fry the red Thai red curry paste for a minute or two until there's a strong scent of spices. Add the coconut milk and vegetable stock. When the broth comes to boil, let it bubble for a couple of minutes. Next, add carrots and cook for 5-10 minutes according to how small the matchsticks are. Add mushrooms and cook for a further two minutes. Finally add the noodles and cook according to packet instructions (mine took 4 minutes).

When the meatballs are cooked through, remove from the oven, cover with foil and rest for a few minutes. Add them to the broth, sprinkle with some fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime juice. Serve with more lime wedges.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I totally loved Liane Moriarty's previous novels ('What Alice Forgot' ,'The Husband's Secret') but 'Little Lies' exceeded all my expectations. The story evolves around a school in a nice sea-fronted neighbourhood in Sydney where an unspecified tragic event takes place at a parents' fund-raiser. The story is interspersed with police interviews, adding an intriguing teaser quality to the plot, which isn't really needed because the writing is so well crafted that the reader is completely in the book's thrall anyway. 

The story is told from the point of view of three mothers: the single mother Jane, the confident Madeline, and the beautiful Celeste, whose five-year-olds are new to the Pirriwee Public School. Any mother will recognise the terror and delight of those first months when a child starts school told so well in 'Little Lies', but this novel is about so much more. It's about lies, as the title suggests, but it's also about secrets, friendship, sex, love and marriage.
Because there are so many twists and turns in the book, I won't go into the detail of the plot. I envy anyone who has yet to read this novel; so I shall leave you all to find out what happens to the families of Pirriwee Pubic all by yourselves. Be prepared for a en emotional roller-coaster and give up all your free time to Liane Moriarty's prose; I consumed 'Little Lies' under a week because I just could not put the book down!
by Liane Moriarty