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Highlights in the Charts

Friends, Lovers and The Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry

Review by Becky Innes

The American comedy series Friends has been a massive part of my life for decades. When I heard that Matthew Perry was releasing a memoir, I knew I had to read it. I didn’t know much about his life or work outside of Friends, other than that he had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. Friends, Lovers and The Big Terrible Thing is a title which is straight to the point; the three biggest things in his life.

I’m lucky enough to have never experienced addiction. I don’t think you can ever truly understand addiction unless you’ve gone through it, but Matthew Perry gave an excellent insight into what it feels like. His words were dark, punchy and painful and designed to shock the reader – and they did. Perry discusses his addictions like they are corporeal entities that live with him and that he battles daily.

Most shocking was that he was only sober for one series of Friends. This is testament to what an outstanding comedy actor he really is because, watching it back, you can’t tell. The only indicator that something isn’t right is his fluctuating weight – he explains that he was in rehab between most series of filming. The most shocking fact to me is that at one point he was on fifty-five pills a day.

This book also screams isolation, abandonment and severe issues with intimacy. Paired with an inability to form close and lasting relationships which are down to childhood traumas, your heart goes out to him. All he has ever wanted was to marry and have children but his own fears prevent that from happening.

The book is fairly repetitive, with a timeline that feels quite jumpy, but I actually think it worked very well as an addiction memoir as it takes you into Perry's drug-addled mind. We read what he wanted us to see and the chronology of the events is irrelevant to the message he wanted to put out to his readers.

I often wonder what celebrities want to achieve by writing their story. Some do it for exposure, some do it for money, but Matthew Perry has both of these in buckets. I think his was the most noble cause for a memoir – I get the feeling that he wanted to tell his story to help others experiencing addiction and also to tell his truth after decades of the media reporting on his issues.

Cursed Bread by Sophie Mackintosh

Review by Natalie Beckett

The literati are exclusively describing Sophie Mackintosh’s Cursed Bread with dazzling words of praise. According to the book jacket, Mackintosh’s writing is sumptuous, visceral and luminous; mysterious yet indelible, full of narrative crescendo and incantatory prose. As someone partial to getting to the point, I prefer Megan Nolan’s choice of phrase: it’s “a knockout.”

Cynicism aside, there is a reason everyone is pulling out the big words for Mackintosh. Cursed Bread is a literary fever dream, toeing the line between reality and obsessive fantasy. The story is told through the eyes of Elodie, the baker's wife who yearns to be desired, yet feels unworthy of desire. She is trapped in a passionless marriage to a strong man who makes a living from feeding others, but has no appetite for his wife.

Everything is turned on its head with the arrival of an alluring new couple: the Ambassador and his wife Violet. Driven by compulsion, Elodie is so bewitched by them that she clings to every scrap of gossip she can get her hands on. The couple appears amused by her and she soon finds herself secretly listening to their private conversations and tangling herself in their relationship and sadistic games.

Meanwhile, a frenzy of darkness is seeping into every corner of the town. Violet takes Elodie to see eight dead horses laid out in a dry yellow field and the town watches as a young boy jumps willingly into a bonfire at the midsummer festival. Mackintosh drip-feeds clues by jumping into a future reality where Elodie is living by the seaside and everyone from the town has since perished.

One might critique the book's title and lines like “eat the bread and you’ll die” for giving away the central plot. However, the build up to a confession is so gripping that it doesn’t matter. Besides, it is Mackintosh's exploration of desire that is most captivating. I was particularly taken with her examination of the role shallow beauty can play in a person's perception of their own desirability. In a grim yet truthful reflection of how society measures the worth of a woman’s body, Elodie remains firm in her belief that in this world she has a “specific” appeal; whereas Violet “will always find desire reciprocated, no matter how bleak.”

In Margaret Atwood-esque fashion, Cursed Bread is based on a true story; a fact that lends itself to the entrancing nature of the book.


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