Reviewed: Sky Blues Interactive

Stuck in the Midlands with you.

Sky Blues Interactive
BBC Coventry and Warwickshire

“I just wanna say, guys, I mean really, to be fair, look at the results tonight, did any of you see how it was all coming, ’cause, for me, although we absolutely sort of professionally took a part with regards to the counter-attack and everything else, I mean nil-nil away? We needed to win. I thought we’d at least win one or two-nil. We needed to win.”

This was a Coventry fan, Dan, down the line to BBC Coventry and Warwickshire’s football phone-in (23 February, 5pm) vociferously complaining about his team’s nil-nil draw with Crewe Alexandra. But having left moments before the end of the match, he had evidently missed his team’s last moment goals.

“Dan, Dan, Dan, Dan, Dan, Dan, Dan . . .” interrupts the presenter, with electricity in his voice (he knows this clip is about to go viral). “We won 2-0.”

“What?”

Rarely has the moaning football fan been so hilariously and succinctly exposed. But everything about the caller’s manner illustrates precisely why radio programmes such as this, and Radio 5 Live’s 606, are increasingly hard listen to: the jigsawing together of Match of the Day-termettes like “with regards to” and “to be fair” and “for me”.

The coy mention of “professionalism” followed by unfettered rage.

Literally every call is now like this. Postmatch, the fans – on speakerphone in the car, clearly after a few – spit boundless fury. The “supporters’ trust” entitlement! The sheer stamina for complaint! Without doubt, it’s getting worse. An insistence that we must be listened to has always obtained in football, of course, but it’s all the more nutty now that it’s being directed at the uninterested capitalists that own the clubs.

Dan was even angry when he found out that Coventry had won. “Leon Clarke header?” he spluttered. “We left two minutes before the end of the game!”

Meanwhile, a midnight email from Planet Rock’s informed listeners announced that Led Zeppelin had been named the most influential band of all time in a February-long poll. The mail was panickedly abrupt – a mere telegram pressed into Mel Gibson’s hand before sprinting along the Anzac trenches to Zep’s “The Battle of Evermore”, with Giuseppe Rotunno behind the camera insisting on long master-shots. A later missive confirmed that Freddie Mercury and his harem of stockbrokers were runners-up and that Black Sabbath had followed up the poll’s rear. Stop.

There's always time for a Leon Clarke header. Photograph: Getty Images

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 March 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The fall of Pistorius

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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