THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE
Claire meets Henry for the first time when she is six. Henry meets Claire when he is twenty-eight. There are eight years between them. Henry is a time traveller. Theirs is a love story.
It turns out it's quite hard to write about a book that you fell hard for at first read and have loved ever since. My copy, long-missing its dust jacket and spine, is probably the most read book on my shelves. Henry and Claire are as old friends to me, moments of their lives entwined with mine: I recite (to myself, silently), the same excerpt from Rilke that Henry reads to Claire in labour as I labour; I feel kinship with Henry as I blearily pull on my running clothes on dark winter mornings ('Running is many things to me: survival, calmness, euphoria, solitude. It is proof of my corporeal existence, my ability to control my movement through space if not time, and the obedience, however temporary, of my body to my will'); I think of Claire's skin-tight lilac blue silk slip every time I dress for a party. So many of its cultural preoccupations have become my own.
It's strange how this happens. How something can catch you at just the right time. Zadie Smith explores this somewhat – explaining it much better than I - in her essay 'Some Notes on Attunement' in which she talks about the moment she fell in love with Joni Mitchell. (She confesses as well, that when she talks of Mitchell she's mainly thinking of Blue, possibly the most well-known of her albums. Equally The Time Traveler's Wife, is undeniably mainstream: a very sentimental love story, whose rights were quickly snapped up by Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston and has since been made into a mediocre hollywood movie. If you've watched the film please don't prejudge the book – there is not even a whiff of its luminosity).
The book is clever – its science-fiction fantasy rooted in the everyday, and made entirely comprehensible by Audrey Niffenegger's skilful prose. Its settings are low-key cool, and its characters multi-layered and eminently charming. It is very good on the domestic, the specificity of intimacy, and the different narratives that spring from the same relationships. But it is the longing I think – it is suffused with longing – that really caught me. 'I want. That's all. I am wanting.'
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY
I can hardly remember a time when I hadn't watched When Harry Met Sally. An older friend – a budding film critic – had taken it upon herself to show child-me the classics but it wasn't until we settled down to an afternoon of Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal that I realised I was hooked.
I imagine there's no need to describe the plot. (Though if you need a recap, here's Netflix's succinct, hilarious synopsis: 'After years of sweet friendship, a witty man and a quirky woman face a dangerous challenge to their relationship: love'). Taking cues from Woody Allen's Annie Hall and Manhattan, and other, earlier films such as Pillow Talk, nevertheless when When Harry Met Sally was released in 1989 it paved the way for a new type of rom com. With a screenplay by Nora Ephron, what's notable is the equal weight given to both Harry and Sally. Neither is villain nor victim, and the story is told from both perspectives. While the soundtrack is excellent (where would I be musically without the enduring tunes of the Ephron/Ryan trifecta?), dialogue is king, and just when it seems like Crystal is getting a bit too much air time, Ryan swoops in with that iconic deli scene. The film continues to shift back and forth in that way for its entirety, with so many quotable lines it feels like not a day goes by when one doesn't pop into your head.
(Incidentally, the long stretches without music make it one of the most perfect movies to fall asleep to – so, in the interests of this month's theme, snuggle down under the covers, call a friend, and cue up the movie together ...).
The world that Nora Ephron created continues to be the one I'd most like to live in movie-wise - from friendships to food, love, film refs, interiors, cityscapes and road trips – it's all perfect seen through Ephron-hued glasses. And When Harry Met Sally, in all its seasonal New York splendour, might just be the best.
HIBERNATE AT HOME
Need more reasons to hibernate? Why not brew yourself a tea, book that Deliveroo, and settle down in your comfiest chair, to:
Immerse yourself further in Nora Ephron's world with a read of her 2006 piece 'Nora Ephron's Apartment: A Love Story' for The New Yorker.
Listen to the album Blue by Joni Mitchell. In the aforementioned essay, Zadie Smith writes: 'This is the effect that listening to Joni Mitchell has on me these days: uncontrollable tears. An emotional overcoming, disconcertingly distant from happiness, more like joy—if joy is the recognition of an almost intolerable beauty. It’s not a very civilized emotion. I can’t listen to Joni Mitchell in a room with other people, or on an iPod, walking the streets. Too risky. I can never guarantee that I’m going to be able to get through the song without being made transparent—to anybody and everything, to the whole world. A mortifying sense of porousness. Although it’s comforting to learn that the feeling I have listening to these songs is the same feeling the artist had while creating them: “At that period of my life, I had no personal defences. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes.”'
Watch both seasons of Shtisel, the gentle, Israeli soap opera set in an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood in Jerusalem. Its preoccupations are standard TV fare: love, lust and heartbreak, but, centred as it is, around a large, multi-generational Haredi family – an insular subculture that most know little about – it is endlessly fascinating and shamelessly heartwarming.
Spend the day listening to the archives of The Open Ears Project. Described as 'part mix tape, part sonic love letter', each episode features a different person sharing the classical track that means the most to them. With guests ranging from actor Alec Baldwin to Instagram's Eva Chen, the daily podcast is a short, tantalising glimpse of the music that feeds people.