Sinéad Gleeson: On My Culture Radar
Author on Agnes Martin’s self-isolation, Elaine Feeney’s new book and comedy of Maeve Higgins
Sinéad Gleeson: “Buy vouchers for theatres and make a pact with yourself to see more plays when we’re out the other side of this pandemic.” Photograph: Bríd O’Donovan
Current favourite book
Elaine Feeney’s As You Were is published soon and tells the story of a woman who has cancer but keeps it from her family, confiding it only to a strange crow. Partly set in a hospital, it feels weirdly timely. It also explores the lives of Irish women through a varied cast of characters and the things that have happened to women in this country. But it’s also very funny in places, despite some of the darker subjects it handles.
Maeve Higgins’s stand-up is hilarious. Recently she published a brilliant collection of essays, Maeve in America, that veer from tea-spittingly funny (the one about trying to rent a Vera Wang dress) to the humane and political (about immigration and Trump’s policies). Her film Extraordinary, in which she plays a driving instructor with paranormal gifts, has just landed on Netflix.
I’ve long admired the work of Corn Exchange, and was glad to get to see The Fall of the Second Republic at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin before it had to close early recently. I’m really feeling for the theatres that are currently dark, and all the playwrights and actors out of work because of shutdowns. Buy vouchers for theatres now and make a pact with yourself to see more plays when we’re out the other side of this pandemic.
Because I’ve just read Olivia Laing’s Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency (out later in April), I’ve fallen down an Agnes Martin rabbit hole. While we’re talking self-isolation, Martin lived in the desert in New Mexico, focusing solely on her abstract expressionist painting – work that seems to embody solitude and routine. And she survived one winter solely on gelatine mixed with orange juice and bananas.
My brain is currently switched to “can’t concentrate” mode, so playlists of songs are working better than albums right now. Two themes I’d recommend for sanity: an old-skool reggae/soul list of Marlena Shaw, Hopeton Lewis, The Skatalites and Althea & Donna; and what I think of as “landscapey soundtrack” stuff by Jóhann Jóhannsson, Mount Alaska and Hildur Guðnadóttir (who has been winning awards for her Joker and Chernobyl soundtracks). They’re immersive, and can really take the listener somewhere else.
I should be New York right now because my book has just been published in the US. It’s one of the most electrifying places in the world: all those people piled on to that thin sliver of Manhattan. There’s also the tyranny of choice – so many exceptional bookshops, restaurants and galleries. It’s a city you could never get bored in. It’s possibly a cliche to say Paris too, but you can’t beat walks by the Seine, people-watching in cafes, followed by a bankrupting trip to Shakespeare & Co to buy your own body weight in books.
At the moment, I’m currently waiting for Tuesdays to roll around for The Nobody Zone on RTÉ’s Documentary on One. It’s about Irishman Kieran Kelly who went to live in London in the 1950s and might be Ireland’s most prolific serial killer. It’s utterly gripping.
Like a lot of people, I was a huge Breaking Bad fan so the new season of Better Call Saul is keeping me sane. Crime/police dramas are excellent for switching off, and there are a ton on Netflix (Happy Valley, Marcella, Unforgotten). My children recently introduced me to Brooklyn Nine-Nine which has won me over. Much-needed laughs and a brilliant ensemble cast.
In these strange days, it feels like a natural thing to escape into books, music and film, and I’ve been feeling nostalgic for films I loved and want to go back to, so I’m planning to dip in to The Year My Voice Broke, an indie Australian coming-of-age film I loved as a teenager. After that, it’s Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas, which is probably quite a melancholic film to watch now, but Ry Cooder’s heart-breaking soundtrack is another reason to seek it out. And for laughs, I’m probably due an Anchorman rewatch, because, let’s face it, we’re all currently in a glass case of emotion . . .
Constellations is now out in paperback, published by Picador