Book of 2016: Nomad – Alan Partridge

Book of 2016: Nomad – Alan Partridge

Okay, before we begin, Nomad isn’t the best literary book you’ll ever read, or even the standout performer of 2016. But it is Alan Partridge, on his best form. That alone deserves all the accolades thrown at it. It’s the best humorous book since I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan.

Alan Partridge has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. Steve Coogan is no longer trying to distance himself from the character to gain validation for his talent. Perhaps we can thank the critical success of Philomena for this? Since then he has fully embraced Partridge in a feature film, more Mid Morning Matters, Welcome to the Places of My Life, and Scissored Isle.

Throughout these its clear the character still works and he understands how to keep it relevant. It’s been a long time since I’m Alan Partridge but the essence of what made that show works still exists but the Partridge Universe has grown since then. Alan has become the thing of comedy folklore.

Nomad is Alan’s tale of recounting his father’s unfulfilled footsteps. He constantly reminds you, it isn’t for a TV show or exposure. The reason he decides to go on a walk is to connect with his deceased father. They were never close, as he explained in his autobiography, but when he discovers an old box of possessions in his loft it plants a seed.

His father, it appears, should have attended an interview at Dungeness Power Station but got a letter confirming his non-attendance. In the same box were receipts from the day of the journey, signposting his stops at petrol stations (one with a blot of blood). This allows Alan to plot a route. He decides to embark on the same journey.

Why it has to be on foot has nothing to do with a new TV show. The chasing up of a TV producer is more coincidence and ensuring the British public get to experience the pilgrimage.

Interspersed between the main narrative are chapters that further expand on Partridge myths featuring real life celebs, meaning a few new stories come to life. The fictional accounts range from the reoccurring Eammon Holmes and Bill Oddie, to a random David Essex footnote, and a rant aimed at Noel Edmonds.

The gaps between movie and recent TV shows are filled in. We get to know what happened (to a degree) with Geordie Michael. His recent love life, which was a subplot in Mid Morning Matters, gets a further mention. Lynn is here, though he never says her name. Forbes McAllister’s death (Knowing Me, Knowing You) is even addressed in a footnote.

His version of events we’ve seen on screen are retold. Through the eyes of Alan, Alpha Papa is a completely different story.

Annabel Swanswim even gets a mention for the keen-eyed fan. Along with Fernando, Sidekick Simon and the trio of Julia Bradbury, Clare Balding and Michael Portillo have supporting (if very small) roles. It all adds colour to the life of a man that is now embedded in the public consciousness.

One liners come think and fast, too many to list and it’d be unfair to rob them for those that are yet to read the book. But you know you’re onto something special when lines like: So you’ll forgive me if my gast wasn’t exactly flabbered, are accredited to Paul Ross from 1990.

And the grammatically challenging: People were letting their hair down. But the only thing Partridge was letting down was ‘not his guard’.

Similes are especially good throughout, like: throbbing like a frog’s neck. And the fear that a ‘welly on’ is pensioner slang for an erection. The quirks and observations litter the pages. He takes aim at all classes and pokes derision at things that are so not Partridge (The Great British Bake Off).

Needless to say (…I had the last laugh), it doesn’t run as planned, Partridge’s personality requiring the sort of nourishment destined to always evade an honest run at success. His failures somehow further the character. It’s like when Del Boy and Rodney became millionaires, the magic of the comedy left them. Alan is the perineal loser, it’s what makes him endure and become endearing.

Book of the Year? Alan would probably say, “It’s the best book since Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab.”


Album of 2016: Here – Alicia Keys

Album of 2016: Here – Alicia Keys

Choosing the album of the year wasn’t an easy task. Based purely on performance and production, the accolade would have gone to Radiohead for A Moon Shaped Pool. But music is about more than the aesthetic culmination of a sound. Alicia Key’s Here the proves this rule. It isn’t the product of years of evolution and refinement, it’s a new world that serves as an introduction to the real Alicia.

Before things slow down on the sixth track, “She Don’t Really Care_1 Luv”, there is a sense of stepping into Alicia’s authentic world, perhaps for the first time. The opening words demand attention (“I’m the dramatic static before the song begins / I’m the erratic energy that gets in your skin”) to “The Gospel”, a song that rolls along with an urban message and a street sound. It acts as a precursor to the entire album. The sweet piano, radio-friendly vibes are gone.

That’s not to say she has downplayed her natural talent on the keys, it’s now a tool used to give drama in the right places and emphasis like no other instrument can muster. Her vocal style has duly been adapted. In parts, like the album, it is raw. The openness, the imperfection, hearing the breath as she pushes messages into the microphone, or it break as she sings “Hallelujah”, surpass a polished mainstream offering.

With this record, she has finally given voice to her opinions, her character. “Blended Love” clearly comes from experience, talking about stepchildren and family. “Holy War” is a semi-political statement, reflecting these uncertain times. “Girl Can’t Be Herself” is the record that soundtracks her online push for women to go without make-up, be natural.

Cynics will point out it’s easy for one of the world’s most beautiful women to adopt the natural look, but they’d be missing the point and highlighting why Alicia has been championing the idea.

It should be noted there was nothing wrong with her previous offerings. The majority of Alicia Keys albums will stand the test of time. This one just redefines her while capturing the world now. “Kill Your Mama” isn’t a song that could have worked on a softer, commercial album.

Periodically the album cuts away to interludes, these add to the personalised structure. Without making this the whitest review ever of Here, it also makes one think back to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. That debut album perfectly got the idea of the artist and her sound over. It changed a genre in the process.

Here incorporates R&B, hip-hop, and soul traits into a wrapper of Alicia’s design. It’s an album that transcends her previous works and acts as a reboot for what’s to follow.

The clue was on the album cover. Quite regularly she is seen in a headwrap on social media, on the cover her natural curly locks spring to life unhindered. She’s Here. No longer the young piano playing virtuoso that’s falling or a girl on fire, but a woman with a strong voice and opinions to deliver.

The next time she provides them can’t come soon enough.

Movie of 2016: Room

Movie of 2016: Room

Okay, technically this did get a late 2015 release. However, here in the United Kingdom it was a January film so that’s good enough for me to view it as a movie from 2016. Coupled with its inclusion in this year’s Academy Awards, it has a valid enough reason to be as classed a movie from the last twelve months. But why the best?

After a whole year, to drag a film back from the previous December speaks volumes for its impact. It should be a story that is too grim to place the spotlight on. Even if executed well, it should have been put on a shelf and been everyone’s sad but buried movie. Well, it wasn’t shot, written and performed well – it was almost perfect.

Emma Donoghue took her 2010 novel and turned it into a screenplay before the book’s actual release. It’s a great example of allowing the author to nurture their work to the big screen. The result is clear to see. Profound, in fact. Who else could have added the required layers to the characters from the page?

This may sound strange, the idea of an adaptation adding to the written word, but leading star and Oscar winner for her performance in the film, Brie Larson, explained in an interview it was after seeing the script, and realising her character’s role had greater depth than the Joy portrayed in the book, that she had no doubts about joining the project.

She worked under director Lenny Abrahamson to tell the story of a young woman who had been abducted years before and kept hidden in a small outhouse. It forms the “room” for the first part of the story. Trapped with her is Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay, her five-year-old son, a product of the repeated rapes by her captor.

Jack has never seen beyond the room. His perceptions of the world are from Joy’s teachings, she has told Jack the world is just their space. Everything on the television is make believe. The world has shrunk to the size of that room, to just one another. It’s part coping mechanism, part defensive measure.

Joy ensures Jack is kept locked in the cupboard during the nightly visits from “Old Nick” (their jailor). The author confirmed the naming is a nod to the old Christian term for the devil; Joy and Jack are unaware of his actual name.

After an impromptu meet between “Old Nick” and Jack, Joy decides she needs to get her son out of the room and reveals that a wider world does exist. What follows is nerve-wracking and heart-breaking. It shows the best and worst of humanity in close proximity and quick succession.

It’s no spoiler to say the movie moves on beyond the room, where mother and son have to adapt to a new world.

Larson has already been awarded for her role but she should cut that Oscar in half and send it to Jacob Tremblay. Watching him become familiar with the world while expressing the bond with his mother is something magical.

Before shooting, Lenny Abrahamson got the two actors together on social dates to see if there was a connection that could be caught on camera. He must have felt like he’d hit the jackpot. Tremblay said in an interview he was so friendly with Brie in real life he found he couldn’t shout at her in one scene. That true friendship is the backbone for what comes across as an unbreakable bond.

The world Joy and Jack find themselves in after the room has more traps than before and is a struggle for the pair. The pieces of a broken family, confused relatives, a relentless media, to name a few. But a film that spends so long pulling on heart-strings before breaking them, is also inspiring. The expression of true love overcoming all evil.

From the darkest nature of man, two people of pure goodness emerge.

Usually it’s best to read the novel first then view the film with a critical eye, adding the obvious line: the book’s always better. In this case a complete reversal works: after watching the movie, it’s unfathomable that the written word can prove to be more emotive.

It’s understandable people will draw parallels or conclusions to real-world stories that have similar points but these are always portrayed as horrors in the media. This story shows us the central points between the two victims involved and despite all that they endure, a real feeling of hope becomes the fabric of their tale.

Sometimes, the only thing that a person needs in an entire world is just one person to love them. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay have expressed this better than anyone has previously managed on film.