#001 — These Are Jewels Made From Synthetic Ruby

Hi, hello, how are you? I hope your week was good, and (if you’re reading from the UK) that you feel like your vote counted. This is the first official issue of the newly titled Tendrils — your occasional missive from me, Adam Wood, from a little corner of Oxford where, after a multiple week avalanche of pamphlets, and unending knocks on doors, we re-elected our Green Party councillor by a substantial margin. Wherever you are, I hope you feel represented.

I once wrote about the ways in which (one of my favourite films) Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) read to me as a ‘an urgent female revision of Fight Club’. This week I had a similar experience when watching Lauren Hadaway’s superb directorial debut feature, The Novice (2021). The film follows Alex Dall, a freshman who turns to competitive rowing as a break from her academic pursuits, only to find that her tendencies towards obsession also translate to sport. As a character study of someone increasingly driven beyond reason to follow a passion, I was always going to draw comparisons to (another of my favourite movies) Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014).

Where Whiplash is focussed on its protagonist’s talent as a drummer as it is catalysed and mutated within the gravitational field of an authority figure (JK Simmons’s Terence Fletcher — one of the best screen performances of the last decade), The Novice is more interested in power dynamics between peers: rivalry, jealousy, and the fight to feel as though you belong. The ways in which Hadaway’s script, and Isabelle Fuhrman’s increasingly intense performance, capture Alex’s deepening obsession, is absolutely magnetic.

The fact that I found the two films comparable is a strong recommendation — they would make a perfect double bill.

This week I read Pola Oloixarac’s novel Mona (2021). For ~90% of its duration, it plays out something like a more acidic, more pointedly satirical cousin to Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy (2014-18). The narrator is a Peruvian author attending a remote literary retreat in Sweden, which is to culminate in the awarding of a prize. The characters with whom she interacts are almost exclusively other writers from various backgrounds. Oloixarac (as translated by Adam Morris) assiduously keeps these portraits on the right side of caricature, whilst certainly having fun putting icy Scandinavians alongside hot-blooded Latin Americans, and an inscrutable Japanese poet. Simultaneously, the novel introduces a breadcrumb trail of increasingly unsettling details for Mona to stumble upon, culminating in a truly astounding final sequence. Not since Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings (2020), has my head been so thoroughly spun by the denouement to a novel. I don’t know that I can unreservedly recommend Mona to everyone, but particularly if you’re a reader of Rachel Cusk, you may have a good time with it.

I haven’t remembered how to do transitions when writing a newsletter yet, so here are a few photos from the walk we took on the Bank Holiday — up via University Parks, through North Parade (with a stop at Barefoot Bakery), and down beside the Wareham Stream.

• • •

Let’s round things out with some bullets:

At this point in my writing life, there’s a line that goes backwards to when I started. And it all seems to be contained in the moment in which I’m now working somehow, it’s all compressed between that.

  • This podcast was informative on the manner in which Roe v Wade is rooted in the 14th Amendment

  • We made the Tandoori Tofu Sheet Pan that I blogged about here, and it was delicious

  • Take a look at this wonderful, detailed explainer of how a mechanical watch functions, complete with fun interactive elements — super well done

  • I published the annual update to my Star Wars Canon Media checklist on 4 May: you can find that here

  • Since Friday I’ve had the new albums from Arcade Fire and Warpaint on rotation

I’ll leave it there. Thanks to everyone who subscribed, and everyone who got in touch following that introductory issue last week. If you’re reading this on the web, you too can subscribe by dropping your email address in the box below. If you’re reading this in your inbox, you can forward it to a friend, or you can always hit reply if you have comments, questions, suggestions, or ideas for how to use excess red cabbage. Until next time!


— Adam