Culture - Issue 96 - Magazine | Monocle

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On page

Murder, glamour, intrigue and cartography: all elements that have found their way to this month’s book reviews.


Soho Sins

Richard Vine

The Manhattan art world’s golden couple are no more after she winds up with a bullet in her head. Did he pull the trigger? To find out off we go at a gallop through New York’s uppermost echelons populated by billionaires and paintings that may or may not hold the clues. A taut, impeccably plotted debut.


Love in Central America

Clancy Martin

This dark and intoxicating novel traces the slippery slope of a woman who holds it all in her hands yet is unable to stop grasping for more. Woven through a kaleidoscope of luxurious hotel rooms in Mexico City, Cancún, Puerto Vallarta and Nicaragua, we watch Brett – our brave and beautiful heroine – slowly unravel through a series of small, loaded choices and well-stocked mini-bars. Dangerous and compulsive, funny and honest, Brett’s addiction is to addiction – and without it her glass is only half full.


The Nakano Thrift Shop

Hiromi Kawakami

The ever-readable, ebulliently-imaginative Japanese novelist bursts the four small walls of Nakano-san’s bric-a-brac shop with this tale of unusual, unrelated but inextricably intertwined characters. Love is the theme. What’s it worth to you? Can you tell someone else you feel it for them? What will you do with yourself if you don’t dare? It’s easy to imagine Kawakami’s cult status in Tokyo, home of awkward interaction, where kids go on dates to shops. Kawakami again holds up a worthy and witty mirror for her readers to blush in front of.


Atlas of Improbable Places

Travis Elborough and Alan Horsfield

“A compendium of unlikely, curious and plain odd locales” seems something of a natural habitat for Travis Elborough, a cultural historian with a touch of the Betjemans and a lick of the Meades about him. From deserted mining towns in Nagasaki to the ever-decreasing Holland Island in Maryland, he and cartographer Horsfield do us a great service: making the world feel bigger.

The close up

Compelling and controversial viewing, Adnan Oktar is a television titan in Turkey. Here’s the lowdown, complete with sex tapes, fossils and conspiracy theories.

Adnan Oktar is the owner and shadowy star of Turkey’s channel A9, a station that is dedicated to espousing Oktar’s creationism (he’s the author of more than 300 books, apparently) and a theological meze of Islam, Turkish nationalism and quasi-feminism – interspersed with scenes of Oktar playing air guitar, of course.

Channel A9 is filmed in a large and lavish mansion-compound in Istanbul. Oktar holds forth for three hours a day in front of a studio audience known as The Kittens: a group of mostly peroxide blondes in cerise lipstick who smile and nod, dance around to impromptu techno excerpts, and bear an eerie resemblance to one another. The Kittens are thought to be wealthy Turkish socialites, clearly charmed by Oktar’s ideas that evolution is nonsense and oppression ruins women’s hair.

It’s not clear how Oktar funds all this but, needless to say, critics reckon channel A9 has a cult-like whiff. Oktar has been accused of blackmailing wealthy followers with sex tapes but is adept at batting away scandal by suing anyone who says things he doesn’t like. Channel A9 has an ardent viewer base (Oktar claims millions) despite its founder’s penchant for conspiracy theories. He recently suggested that Turkey’s failed coup attempt in July was a UK plot.

The backstory
Born in Ankara in 1956, Oktar spent a brief spell in a mental institution before penning his seminal 870-page tome The Atlas of Creation, which puts photographs of animals next to similar-looking fossils. He sent thousands of copies to academics around the world, including Richard Dawkins, who pointed out that the pictured caddis fly was actually a fishing lure. Oktar responded with a lawsuit.

The shtick
Off-air Oktar can occasionally be spotted in Istanbul with his entourage, recognisable for his crisp white suit and sunglasses and impeccably sculpted beard. His activities have been tolerated for years as Oktar remained a vocal supporter of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But he’s recently spoken out against some of Erdogan’s constitutional ambitions and critics say this could be a step too far.



Nick Luscombe

Presenter, producer and DJ


Nick Luscombe presents Late Junction on BBC Radio 3 and his own Flomotion show. He is also the founder of Musicity, an international project that fuses music and urbanism, and has just released an album: Unpopular Music.

What is the story behind the record?
It collects some of the collaboration sessions – two or more artists who’ve never worked together – from Late Junction. I worked with Gearbox Records to develop the LP, which has been cut at 45rpm on four sides of vinyl.

How do these international tracks reach your ears?
I’m lucky that I get to travel as a DJ. In Japan I always meet artists and label owners and usually spend my first hazy jet-lagged hours in Tower Records in Shibuya. Tallinn is another favourite place to seek out new and rare recordings.

What are the differences between making a playlist and DJing for a crowd?
I spend ages making playlists, tweaking them to create the right flow. When DJing I never plan the music. It’s important to be responsive and that’s part of the tension in the room that makes it a hugely enjoyable experience.

Nick Luscombe – labels for further listening:

  1. Gearbox Records
    “For fans of super-high-quality vinyl pressings of previously unheard music, rarely heard sessions and new artists. A highlight: the Nico EP of Peel sessions.”
  2. Soundway Records
    “Releases music from around the world, mainly archive material. Try the newly reissued Odion Iruoje LP of 1970s Nigerian Afro-disco-funk.”
  3. EM Records
    “A label from Japan that specialises in unearthing the most obscure international music, including all manner of epic electronic weirdness.”

On record

The return of an old pal who’s all grown-up and the debut of our new BFF.



Teenage Fanclub

Ah, the Fannies return sounding even more sun-kissed, Californian and harmonised than ever before, cementing their status as North Lanarkshire’s premier band of foul-weather friends. What’s changed since their debut in 1990? “I don’t hear much fanfare for the common man these days,” sings Norman Blake on “Hold On”. Not much, then. With their best since the matchless “Grand Prix, Teenage Fanclub again race to a perfect horizon.



Kelsey Lu

This North Carolina-via-Brookyln wonder’s debut EP was recorded in the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in Greenpoint with just cello, a loop pedal and voice (all Lu’s own). Seems that all you need to make a work of boiling-point genius is the rawest of raw materials. Praise be: what clear-eyed beauty abounds.

More music:

  1. Jenny Hval Blood Bitch
    In which the Norwegian artist alternatively blasts and hypnotises the world with power, beauty, femininity and devil-may-care creative force little seen on so much so-so pop. There is much to love and turn up on this record; she’s a one-off wonder.
  2. Karl Faux Lost En Los Angeles
    This came out a couple of months ago but we just wanted to let you know in short form: Kari Faux is the future. We all know by now that hip-hop by women knocks the male guff into the gutter and here’s the crowning proof.

Stand up for good television

Robert Bound

As the TV industry searches for the next big thing to keep bums on seats, our Culture editor opts for quality programmes that speak for themselves.

Television is at a crisis point. Crisis in the sense of “turning point” rather than “What the hell are we going to do?” Well maybe there’s a bit of “What the hell are we going to do?” We’ll come to that later. Programme-makers are wondering what to make and broadcasters are wondering what to commission, where to place their bets: should it be sit-forward or sit-back TV?

Sit where? Sit-forward TV isn’t just gripping drama that has you sitting, as the unimaginative reviewers have it, “on the edge of your seat”. Sit-forward means shows that are interactive, where sofa-surfers pick, choose and direct a portion of the action themselves. It started with The Golden Shot on itv back in 1967 in which viewers could ring up and guide a crossbow attached to a TV camera – peppered targets meant prizes. Amusingly clunky but clean and simple. Sit-back TV is most of the rest: programmes about things, people, places and dramas that move stately as a galleon. My sitting position is similar to my position on having my cake and eating it; it is selfish in the extreme. I want sit-back TV that makes you sit forward.

Interactivity, whether it be a plea to “get involved” or the whole virtual-reality nine yards of sticking a high-definition dustbin on your head to watch Game of Thrones, seems to be missing the point. All good-quality television, whether it’s Wolf Hall or the fine news coverage provided by French channel BFMTV, is interactive because it is involving, compelling and newsworthy in and of itself.

While the TV industry worries about being left behind and wonders about the application of new technology, writers are writing stories, comedians are delivering gags and drama is unfolding. Interactive and involving television – all that supposed sit-forward stuff is just good television, surely?

In a short interview on these pages one of the great sages of contemporary TV, Remy Blumenfeld, told me that programmes about “stuff” don’t get made so much these days, meaning that shows about railways or cookery have been pushed to the commissioning and broadcasting margins. Now everything really has to be about people. People or bust. This is why Gogglebox (you-watching-people-watching-TV) is a tidy little piece of anthropology. They’re all sitting forward, sitting back, sitting sideways, laying across each other, picking their noses, eating crisps, talking over the TV, talking over each other, being snobs, being slobs, being perfectly telegenic.

You, the viewer, aren’t interested in genres; you’re just watching TV. You’re probably not going to interact, are you? I’m not. You’ll like it and tune in next time or you won’t and shan’t. There’s only one room in the house you really need to sit forward in; don’t let’s get that confused with watching any old crap.

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