The best to you: a woman inspects old-style Corn Flakes packets in a mock-up retro Tesco, Goodwood 2012. Photo: Getty
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Chasing the sun: the radio station where it’s always breakfast

Global Breakfast Radio follows the sun around the world, streaming any local morning show for ten minutes, then moving on. 

“It’s coming up to 8.30 in the morning,” patters Tarence Ray on WMMT Mountain Community Radio in Kentucky. “This is usually about the time we read off from our community calendar but . . . unfortunately for you, I do not see a community calendar around me.” A few weeks ago, I tuned into a new internet station, Global Breakfast Radio, which follows the sun around the world, streaming any local morning show for ten minutes, then moving on. Radio Chaparristique in El Salvador merged blithely into to La Chimalteca 101.5 FM in Guatemala, which eventually gave way to WMMT – where I have stayed ever since, a cereal-piled spoon poised in mid-air.

It might have an air of slapdash bonhomie but I’m beginning to think that WMMT is the most organised and amusedly sub­versive little operation in American broadcasting history. Heard across the Appalachians, it uses over 50 volunteer local DJs, from high-school kids playing pop-punk to local miners doing a stint at the weekends. This is an area riddled with exploitative industrial practices – coal and gas companies accused of poisoning water wells, the expansion of enormous prison complexes into rural areas – and the station runs everything from features on fracking and call-in shows for miners suffering from work-related pneumoconiosis (“black lung”) to bluegrass marathons; it was once raided by the police when a teenager snuck on and played a particularly vulgar tape by disputatious comedian Andrew Dice Clay.

“Unfortunately for you, I still do not see a community calendar around me,” continues Ray, in his freewheeling way, as though he’s just knocked the cap from a beer bottle and, elbow on the table, is drinking from the jagged neck. “Maybe we can wing it? I could get really personal and just interject my own dates and events . . .” A 26-year-old legal aid worker whose Twitter feed mentions Bolshevism, Ray’s slyly omnivorous good humour is typical of WMMT. Wherever you might be across the world, it’s the one thing no station can fake. “For example, I have an eye doctor appointment,” shrugs Ray.  “If you all want to see me get my eyes dilated and examined, then hit me up! But first, here’s Bettye Swann with ‘Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me’.”

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 04 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, 100 days to save Great Britain

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Drama without sensation: A Separation is an unsettling novel of distances

In Katie Kitamura’s novel, it is the distance between the narrator’s two selves that causes her most discomfort.

In a 2013 interview with Guernica, the online magazine, the novelist Katie Kitamura discussed how publishing’s “deeply patronising attitude” towards female readers results in overtly feminine book covers, featuring, for instance, women in bathing suits. “That’s not the kind of book cover that makes me want to buy a book,” she said.

The cover of Kitamura’s latest novel, A Separation, does, surprisingly, feature a woman in a bathing suit. But there is something quietly unsettling about this picture: the woman, who has her back to us, is awkwardly cropped out of frame from the elbows up, and she is sitting at the edge of an oddly shaped pool. Most of the cover is solid turquoise – a bright wash of negative space.

Kitamura’s unnamed narrator is a poised literary translator. As the novel opens in London, we learn that she is married to Christopher (a charming, haphazard non-author) but, in secret, they have been living separately for the past six months. When she receives a telephone call from Christopher’s mother, Isabella, informing her that he has seemingly gone missing in Greece, she doesn’t let on about her disintegrating marriage but boards a plane to look for him.

Much of the rest of the novel takes place in Greece: at a “very pleasant” hotel, in “perfect weather”, the pool “heated to a very comfortable temperature”. The area has recently experienced a string of devastating fires, leaving patches of scorched earth. The location has an almost eerie surface stillness that jars with the mystery at its heart. In this way, Kitamura (an art critic as well as novelist) creates a setting somehow reminiscent of David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash, Christopher’s sudden disappearance leaving behind no visible ripples.

The narrator, too, has a glassy composure at odds with the tumultuous events. On deciding to end her marriage formally, she shows neither despair nor relief, but anxiety about the etiquette. “I assumed – I had no prior experience to go on – that asking for a divorce was always discomfiting,” she says with typical understatement, “but I could not believe it was always this awkward.” Of her feelings for her new partner, Yvan, she notes that they seem more like “administration rather than passion”, and then offers a moderated gloss of Hamlet, “You cannot say you did it out of love, since at your age romantic passions have grown weak, and the heart obeys reason.

Her emotional separation from the trauma of her circumstances allows the narrator to examine the facts of her husband’s disappearance. She knows Christopher was unfaithful and she immediately identifies the hotel receptionist as the object of his attentions. We never see the narrator professionally translating, but the novel is concerned with her attempts to read the deeper meanings behind the remarks and behaviour of those around her. She finds it easy to imagine unseen contexts to conversations: an argument between Christopher’s parents, an embrace between her taxi driver and the hotel receptionist. As she writes, “Imagination, after all, costs nothing.”

Her propensity for projection is such that some things remain lost in translation. Even the most minute interactions can be misread. When Christopher’s mother comments that the two women’s love for her son connects them, “she was looking over my shoulder, as if watching someone approach . . . she was staring at nothing”. The novel occupies this imaginative negative space: the gap between what people think and how they appear.

Ultimately, it is the distance between the narrator’s two selves that causes her most discomfort. How long will she allow others to read her as the concerned, loving wife? Should she admit she wants to find Christopher in order to request that they separate officially? As her search continues she notes, “There was a small but definite wedge pushing between the person I was and the person I was purporting to be.”

There is a suspenseful and menacing tone to Kitamura’s prose that might trick a reader into thinking, at first, they are in the territory of thrillers such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Both these novels, like A Separation, have narrators who defy readers’ attempts to fathom their emotional depths and to deal with questions of how well you know anyone – even your own partner. But this is a work free of sensation, or even resolution. As the narrator notes, in the shock of an event it is natural to look for a more dramatic narrative. “But in the end,” she says, “this is only chasing shadows. The real culpability is not to be found in the dark or with a stranger, but in ourselves.”

A Separation by Katie Kitamura is published by Clerkenwell Press (231pp, £12.99)

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution