Each week, The Spyglass Magazine brings you a rundown of the best books, music, TV, movies and more to get you through long days in self-isolation. Whether you’re looking to expand your horizons, make sense of the world or come to terms with uncomfortable truths, there’s something here for you.
Podcast: Stephen Fry’s Great Leap Years and 7 Deadly Sins (Stephen Fry | SamFry Ltd)
If you’re not already convinced that Stephen Fry is the epitome of erudition, this podcast will certainly convert you to the church of Stephen
Plug yourself in and allow Stephen Fry’s buttery voice to transport you through millennia of human innovation in “Season 1: Great Leap Years”, and dissecting our modern understanding of morality in “Season 2: Seven Deadly Sins”.
This is the audio equivalent of the Encyclopaedia Britannica laying you down of a chaise longue and feeding you grapes while muses delicately fan you with ostrich feathers. In short, nourishing for both the mind, soul and – of course – ears.
Fiction: Exist West – Mohsin Hamid
Saeed is a conservative young man who lives with his parents. Nadia is an independent spirit who takes psychedelic mushrooms and wears a long black robe so “men don’t fuck with her”. They meet in an unnamed city teetering on the bridge of war, and as their home falls to militants the two lovers are push uncomfortably close together and painfully far apart in a journey which spans continents.
Hamid has created a story with enough specificity to be compelling, but enough ambiguity to create a sense of universality. Anyone can become a refugee, and this fable makes that abruptly clear. Particularly effective is how the mundanities of Saeed and Nadia’s life become death traps – militants invade businesses, views which once demanded a premium price place you directly in the line of artillery fire.
Exist West won’t provide you with a feel good narrative, but it will certainly transport you out of your quarantine chamber to another world and life.
Film: The Death of Stalin (2017 eOne Films)
The political fallout from the death of one of history’s greatest tyrants doesn’t sound like it would inspire one of funniest films of the century. Yet this “comedy of terrors” from Armando Ianucci – creator of The Thick of It and Veep – delivers volleys of laughter faster than a Wimbledon finalist.
While the horrors inflicted upon ordinary Soviet citizens are chillingly realised in this satire, they themselves are never directly made light of. Instead, Ianucci turns his razor-sharp pen to mocking the egotistical politicians who scrambled for supremacy in the power vacuum which followed Stalin’s demise. The dialogue itself is hilarious and frequently quotable, and elevated by a series of extraordinary performances.
Like in HBO’s Chernobyl, there are no Russian accents to be found here. Instead, actors – whether American or British – use their own accents in order to embody the archetypes their characters represent, with Steve Buscemi’s scheming Italian-New-Yorker Khrushchev and Oscar Isaac’s no-nonsense Yorkshireman Zhukov as particular highlights. It works perfectly, and emphasises the universal truth of the adage “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” by resisting temptations to consign the lessons of the Soviet Union to history.
Arguably, this film is even funnier on a second viewing, giving you the opportunity to notice new details about the performances and dialogue.
Television: Dead Set (2008 Endemol)
Charlie Brooker may be now best known as the brain behind the prescient dystopias of Black Mirror, but he made his name in his native UK as a satirist famous for his mordant wit and cynicism.
Big Brother isn’t the cultural force today it once was (thankfully). But Brooker exploits the potentially interesting ingredients in the original concept – a group of people who were specifically chosen for their ability to annoy each other being isolated in a big house rigged with cameras – to create one of the more memorable iterations of the zombie horror flick in (relatively) recent memory.
Dead Set is the perfect miniseries to watch while stuck at home during a pandemic. As we mooch in our homes besieged by an invisible enemy outside, our heroes barricade themselves inside the Big Brother house as flesh eating hordes gather outside. Taking itself just seriously enough to be compelling, but self aware enough to be an entertaining and at times laugh-out-loud funny ride, Dead Set should definitely be on your lockdown watchlist.
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