Nick Hornby: 'Sersh, I have another script for you. Don’t rush into anything'
The ‘Brooklyn’ writer and Arsenal fan reveals the highlights of his cultural radar
Nick Hornby with Saoirse Ronan: “She’s the best young actress in the world at the moment, and she’s smart enough to avoid all the pitfalls that young actresses face when it comes to choosing material,” HE SAYS. Photograph: Dave Benett/Getty
Current favourite book?
This year I read Larry McMurtry’s magnificent Lonesome Dove, 800 pages of cowboys, cattle, guns, landscape, whores, rivers and snakes. It’s violent only because life was violent – there is no contrivance, nor is there any revelling in the blood: things are as they are. It’s exciting in a way that much literary fiction isn’t. It’s also as ambitious, as generous and as densely populated as anything by Charles Dickens, and it’s funny. I have no idea why I waited 30 years to pick it up.
Olivia Laing is my new favourite non-fiction writer. The Lonely City is a raw, super-smart book about loneliness in art, and Laing’s chapter on outsider artist Henry Darger will haunt me for a long time to come.
I pretty much only go to one local restaurant. San Daniele, near the old Arsenal ground in London, was a small family-run Italian where in the old days you could eat pizza and pasta with Arsène Wenger on one side of you and Patrick Vieira on the other. This year, San Daniele closed down, sadly, but the awesomely cool Farang, which serves Thai street food like you’ve never tasted, moved into the premises. It’s been a gift for the lazy diner, ie me.
In form, Homecoming is closer to an oldschool Radio 4 drama, with a scripted story, voices, plot, characters and actors. But the actors are Oscar Isaac, Catherine Keener and David Schwimmer among others, and there’s nothing fusty about the disturbing, clever, dystopian narrative about troops back from active service whose rehabilitation isn’t what it seems. If this is where podcasts are going, bring it on.
Girl From The North Country didn’t completely work, in my opinion, but what a pleasure to hear Bob Dylan’s songs reimagined and reset so sensitively. One song in particular, Tight Connection To My Heart, is rescued from the justly overlooked and horribly overproduced Empire Burlesque, and turned into the loveliest ballad I’ve heard this year. By the time you read this I’ll have seen Hamilton, so let’s presume that was pretty good too.
Hey Sersh, I have another script for you. Don’t go rushing into anything
The most riveting piece of art I saw this year was Arthur Jafa’s Love is the Message, the Message is Death, tucked away high on the roof of an enormous office block in the Strand as part of the Everything At Once exhibition. Hundreds and hundreds of film clips narrating the violence, pain and joy of the black experience are accompanied by Kanye West’s gorgeous, hymnal Ultralight Beam, to almost overwhelming effect. I watched it through twice and only left because the damage had been done. I might forget the images, but I won’t forget the feelings in a hurry.
I had the enormous pleasure of working with Saoirse Ronan on Brooklyn. This year, it pains me to say, she’s just as good in Lady Bird, and will almost certainly get another Oscar nomination. She’s the best young actress in the world at the moment, and she’s smart enough to avoid all the pitfalls that young actresses face when it comes to choosing material. Hey Sersh, I have another script for you. Don’t go rushing into anything.
The Bureau is the best TV drama series I’ve seen in the last five years. It’s a show about the French secret service and their work in the Middle East. It feels utterly authentic, but that’s only part of the pleasure; it’s brilliantly plotted, and packs in a whole cast of lovable, tragically flawed and entirely sympathetic characters. Just brilliant.
I don’t know whether this counts, but Long Strange Trip, Amir Bar-Lev’s four-hour documentary about the Grateful Dead – not in smaller chunks on Amazon – is the best rock documentary I’ve ever seen. What’s more, I had no real interest in the Dead before I saw it: I was 19 in 1976, so my formative music was fast and violent, not stretched-out and trippy. But this is a story about America since the 1960s, and the Dead’s refusal to go anywhere without a movie camera means that the archive footage is extraordinary – much like the epic, hilarious, singular journey of the band itself.
I have seen New Orleans’ Tank and the Bangas twice in four weeks, and both times I left the venue on an entirely natural high. Tank is a soul singer, a poet, a rapper; the Bangas are Prince’s Revolution, Outkast, and, in their innate understanding of what makes a show a show, the E Street Band, complete with sax player as comic foil. The next time they are in the British Isles they will be playing bigger halls than the ones I saw them in, because word of mouth is loud and excitable. See them anywhere you can.
- Brooklyn, written by Nick Hornby and based on Colm Tóibín's novel, is on RTÉ One on Christmas Day