Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Books’

What we’re reading next

March 05, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Sponsored 1 Comment →

Besides Proust. Well we can’t ignore all other books while we’re reading him.

My Struggle, vol 2 by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Php855 at National Bookstores.

We’re still trying to figure out how Knausgaard makes the most banal, wala lang incidents from his history so compulsively readable. These books should be filmed with Nikolaj Coster Waldau. Who’s Danish, not Norwegian, but we don’t think there will be complaints.

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, hardcover Php1049 at NBS.

We know little about this novel, which has been garlanded with awards, but we follow the classics professor Mary Beard’s blog at the Times Literary Supplement and she praised this.

The Dog by Joseph O’Neill, hardcover Php1049 at NBS.

Netherland was one of our favorite books of recent years; we forced it on many friends, who had no complaints. So when we saw O’Neill’s first book since Netherland we snapped it up and started reading it. The prose is beautiful, but we’re really not in the mood for alienation and anomie in Dubai at the moment. Will return to this.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, Php955 at NBS.

Cited by many writers we admire as their favorite book from last year.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July, Php615 at NBS.

After reading ten pages grew tired of its unrelenting quirkiness and resolved to give copy to someone with a staid job at a bank or an accounting firm, who might find this cute.

American Innovations by Rivka Galchen, Php1149 at NBS.

If we hadn’t been aware of Galchen’s brilliant novel Atmospheric Disturbances, the cover picture of this story collection might have convinced us to buy it anyway.

George Eliot’s Middlemarch, the Penguin Drop Caps hardcover, Php749 at NBS.

Confession: We’ve never read George Eliot, with the exception of required class reading Silas Marner, which is the reason we were turned off at George Eliot. But Middlemarch is said to be one of the finest novels ever written, and we don’t want to miss out on the experience even if the memory of Silas Marner makes us want to run screaming out the door. We love dour old Thomas Hardy, so how difficult can it be?

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Php669 at NBS.

Recently we mentioned having broken up with the New York Times Book Review. Well they loved this, so this is a win-win: either we’ll think it’s brilliant, or we’ll loathe it and congratulate ourselves for dumping the NYT Book Review. It’s like hate-watching a TV show.

How to choose a book

March 04, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books 6 Comments →

saffy greenland

This column first appeared at

Faced with thousands of books in bookstores and millions of titles online, how do you choose the books you will read? The other week I bought a book just because I liked the title: I Regret Everything: A Love Story and its first line, “It would be easy to say my troubles began when a mysterious woman walked into the office but that would ignore the time freshman year in college when Aunt Bren called to let me know my mother had removed all of her clothes in the furniture department at Macy’s and been taken to Bellevue.” I have read and enjoyed many books using the Title+First line method (ex. The Towers of Trebizond + “Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot = Buy), but I have also abandoned many such books. I wasn’t familiar with Seth Greenland, author of I Regret Everything, but the back cover contained flattering blurbs by Larry David and Maria Semple (author of Where’d You Go Bernadette?) and I’ll believe them.

The search for this year’s Gone Girl

March 03, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →


Our friend in the book trades reports that every publisher’s rep claims to have this year’s Gone Girl, i.e. a compulsively readable, twisty crime thriller that could become a hit movie and a cultural phenomenon (Do you know how many couples watched the Fincher together in order to reassure themselves that their relationship was not as bad as Amy and Nick’s?)

One of the top contenders for the title, going by the number of books in stores, is The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. We opened it 3 hours ago and have not been able to do anything since. Halfway through the story, it’s hit all the Gone Girl marks:

– Requires great effort to put down
– Features a girl who IS gone
– Multiple narrators
– Unreliable witnesses, including an alcoholic who doesn’t just forget what she saw, but is unable to form new memories
– A marriage that is not as ideal as other people imagine it to be
– A victim who might not be a victim

We’re going to pretend to get some work done, then will continue reading the book. To really be this year’s Gone Girl the story must take a turn we didn’t see coming, include some nasty revelations, have awful media personalities, and feature characters we’re not sure we like or hate.

* * * * *

Finished. Not as cruel, no characters to love-hate, but riveting.

Arbol de Fuego: Cherry Orchard transposed to Negros in the 1970s

March 02, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →


Go see Arbol de Fuego, PETA’s adaptation of Cherry Orchard, it’s a hoot. (Why not Jardin de los Cerezos? Because there are no cherries in the Philippines.) We’re not sure it’s Chekhovian and it does not seem Russian to us—granted we are partial to anarchists and epileptics, but it’s certainly Pinoy, specifically Negrense, like a companion piece to Oro, Plata, Mata.

Sometimes it veers towards Tennessee Williams-hood, like when Cherie Gil as the matriarch recalls the lover she left in Spain. Jake Macapagal is perfect as the brother, the effete devotee of the Virgin Mary. Leo Rialp as the buffoon who keeps trying to borrow money is heartbreaking in his final scene, and Bembol Roco as the ancient retainer demonstrates how to put on 30 years just by changing the way you walk. Cherie Gil is too youthful and fabulous as the hacendera on the cusp of nouveau poverty—she looks like she’s going to walk out of the estate and straight to the front rows of the Prada spring show. We should be so lucky.

Arbol de Fuego is directed by Loy Arcenas, who also did the production design; the adaptation is by Rody Vera.

“It’s beyond my control”: Dangerous Liaisons at CCP’s Tanghalang Pilipino

February 24, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 6 Comments →


According to some critics, the 18th century novelist and army general Pierre Choderlos de Laclos wrote the novel Dangerous Liaisons to expose the perversions of the French ruling class, which would shortly get their comeuppance in the Revolution. In the novel, which unfolds in a series of letters, the ex-lovers and combatants the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont plot their seductions like military campaigns.

The novel has been filmed many, many times. We are most familiar with the sumptuous Stephen Frears adaptation based on the play by Christopher Hampton. Glenn Close and John Malkovich are the leads, and their pawns are the radiant Michelle Pfeiffer as Madame de Tourvel, Uma Thurman as convent-fresh Cecile, and Keanu Reeves as the Chevalier Danceny. The current Dr. Who Peter Capaldi is Valmont’s valet. This production revels in its theatrical roots: every glance is a coded message, and the characters wear their baroque fashions like armor. It is so much fun, no one asks aloud what those women see in Malkovich.


The more understated Milos Forman version had the misfortune of coming out a year later. Annette Bening and Colin Firth conduct themselves with a more subtle malice, but the production design is less spectacular. Screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere made changes to the plot so the outcome is somewhat kinder.

Then there is the modern teen version in which rich kids Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Philippe plot against Reese Witherspoon. None of these three versions follow the ending of the Choderlos de Laclos novel in which the Marquise, her reputation ruined by the publication of her letters, flees to the country, contracts smallpox and dies. Which would be worse for her than being booed at the opera, no?


The Tanghalang Pilipino production which goes onstage weekends at the CCP Little Theatre is called Juego de Peligro. Translated from the Hampton play by Elmer Gatchalian and directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio, it is set in late 19th century Manila. The schemers are now Margarita (Shamaine Buencamino) and Vicente (Arnold Reyes), two upper-class Spaniards corrupting the indios, who include a wonderful LJ Reyes as the virtuous married woman, and Vin Abrenica as Keanu.

The historical context creates difficulties, beginning with the language: it is rather long-winded and the leads speak it in the fraile-accented Tagalog of old movies: “Nguni’t subali’t datapwa’t an mana indio, que barbaridad.” And then the costumes: we are used to seeing Dangerous Liaisons with low necklines and elevating corsets for the women’s costumes and tight pants for the men’s. The setting being pre-Revolution Manila, there are no boobs or quads, though there are butts, all male, for which we are not complaining, and Vin Abrenica’s abs, which should get separate billing.

Drogon: This is not G-rated!

Still, bringing colonialism and class struggle into a 233-year-old novel is an interesting choice, and Margarita casts herself as a proto-feminist who refuses to be controlled by the patriarchy. Students being introduced to Choderlos de Laclos may find themselves hooked.

Juego de Peligro runs until March 8 at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines. Tickets: Call 8321125 loc. 1620 and 1621, 0905-2544930, 0921-8204155; TicketWorld 8919999,

Kingsman: Mr. Darcy goes berserk and we wonder what took him so long

February 21, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Clothing, Movies 3 Comments →

Eyewear maketh man: Colin Firth and Taron Egerton in Kingsman.

Kingsman: The Secret Service, Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the Mark Millar comics, is the most fun we’ve had at the movies this year so far, but then we enjoy onscreen violence because it saves us the mess of perpetrating our own. We are totally the market that thinks Scanners needed more cranial explosions.

Colin Firth is even better-tailored than usual as a member of a super-secret intelligence agency operating out of Savile Row, and Taron Egerton as his downmarket protege is adorable. Initially we were disturbed by the seeming right-wing reactionary thrust of the movie—that it falls to the upper classes to save the world—but this is turned upside-down before long.

Millar’s comics oeuvre resembles a hyperactive 11-year-old’s rewrites of superhero comics (Kick-Ass), and Kingsman is for those who wish the James Bond flicks had more violence. As in Wanted and the Ultimate Avengers, those in power are overthrown and hands that feed are inevitably bitten.

Firth is always charming, even when he’s committing mass murder, and the action sequences are clever and funny. In fact the movie is so kinetic, we regretted having seen it in 4DX because the moving chairs are redundant. Critics are up in arms over a scene in which a woman offers an agent sex if he saves the world—how is this different from every action movie? Oh, and eyeglasses. Rrrrrr, eyeglasses.