I did manage to stave off my ordinary January blues for a while this year. Well, of course I was blue, but I had luck with my novel reading, which helped. The Winter Palace was great, and I followed it up self-indulgently with a feel-good Jenny Colgan (The Little Beach Street Bakery). On TV, I wallowed in costume drama rewatching. But now, grim reality asserts itself. I've run out of Downton to rewatch; the new Mr Selfridge series (fairly efficient methadone against Downton abstinence) has only just started in the UK and won't be out for ages here; and to top it all, I'm watching The Newsroom series two and reading Alias Grace, which turns out to be an unwise combination.
I'd forgotten how annoying The Newsroom can be. All the faults of the first series are present and correct in the second one (though in fairness, I've only watched three episodes so far). It is quite shamelessly biased and sometimes to the left even of right-on East Coast Democrats. Neal the internet expert is really into the Occupy Wall Street movement, and though his colleagues tease him about it ("look, they're wearing Salvador Dalí masks") you just know that the Quaker girl who's his personable contact within the movement (and possible love interest) will strike them all dumb in the end with a highly rhetorical speech on air. Meanwhile, there will be inspirational music in the background while the supposedly Republican news anchor Will McAvoy - far from "slaughtering" the Quaker girl - nods wisely. I may be wrong of course, but this is the kind of thing that usually happens in this series. In the last episode I saw, Jim (the producer who loves skittish Maggie but never gets together with her) holds a speech on a tour bus for journalists covering Mitt Romney's campaign in the Primary elections. First he bombards Romney's campaign organisers with questions to which the script does not allow them to give any satisfactory answers. Then he advocates a more honest and searching kind of journalism about political campaigns where candidates are properly put on trial. And there it is again, the political dishonesty that drives me mad. This series isn't about giving politicians generally a hard time. It is about giving Republican politicians a hard time, preferably Republican presidential candidates. It was exactly the same thing in series one: the Republican presidential candidates were attacked, not given any counter-arguments, and then we were told that it was all in the interest of improving political life, rather than a sneaky way of feeding the viewers anti-Republican arguments. The endless moralising is bad enough - the admirable Sloan has issues with drone warfare, and even Don gets caught up with idealistically fighting A Cause - but could we at least be spared the hypocrisy? Toby Ziegler, come back, all is forgiven!
It has to be said, though, that the series is still witty, as evidenced by the Salvador Dalí quip (the protester-trendy Guy Fawkes masks do look a lot like Dalí). But it is not as clever as it thinks it is - if it were, you wouldn't realise when it tries to manipulate you, and you do.
As for Alias Grace, well. So far, the plot reminds me a little of Affinity by Sarah Waters, a book I didn't much care for. There, a female visitor in Victorian London became fascinated by an imprisoned medium. Here, in mid-Victorian Toronto, a supercilious young doctor is interviewing Grace Marks, who's imprisoned for a double murder which she's said to have committed in league with a man called James McDermott. The doctor wants to find out if she's a) mad b) guilty. Was she in on the murders at all? Was McDermott her fancy man?
The case is not uninteresting, but so far (I'm on page 150 now) I haven't learned a lot about it. Not to be a ghoul or anything, but could we get to the actual murders soon, or the events leading up to them at least? What makes me think of Affinity is the relationship between the doctor Simon Jordan and Grace. He seems fairly easy to manipulate, and she is a lot more cunning than he gives her credit for. The problem is that neither of them is very likeable, so their complaints about the lives they lead are not particularly fascinating. Grace has just told Jordan in detail about the crossing of her family from Ireland to Canada. Jordan calls her story "the usual poverty and hardships etc." in a letter, and he has a point. Those who are fond of social history may enjoy this sort of thing: for my part, the sooner I get to the crime story, the more pleased I will be.