Three Things: Horrible January Edition

My loneliness is killing me

Three Things: Horrible January Edition

First of all: sorry for the subtitle. I couldn't resist, but I probably should have tried a bit harder.

Second of all: it's January. Isn't it just. I hate this month. I'm sorry, but it's appalling. It's long, it's cold, it goes on forever. What are the redeeming qualities of January? There are none.

I adopted the policy of Gentle January this year, which is a wanky way of saying that I'm not going to jump back into life post-Christmas. Instead I would just focus on the immediate things that need doing. And even that has overwhelmed me. I have lost the motivation to eat well, study, or do anything that I should be doing. Frankly, I would like to hibernate until March at the earliest.

Anyway. As much as I hate this month, I have experienced some good things, including a remarkable book, a lovely album, and a game I finally got round to playing again. Here we go:

📖 Book: I Who Have Never Known Men, Jacqueline Harpman (1995)

Sometimes you read a book so remarkable that you kind of fly through it in a desperate rush. This was the case for me with I Who Have Never Known Men. Originally published in 1995, this was the first of Harpman's books to be translated into English. It is short but completely overwhelming.

It opens with thirty-nine women trapped in an underground prison, overseen by silent, unfeeling guards. The women were captured a long time ago, and have settled into a kind of strange rhythm. They are not allowed to touch each other, to ask questions, or to ask for anything. One day, an alarm blares, and the guards flee: in their rush, they happen to leave the key in the door. And so the women, stunned and terrified, rush to their freedom.

But what unfolds next is not what I expected. They don't know where they are, and there's nobody around to ask. Not another living soul to question or glean information from. And so they find themselves in a kind of prison of a different kind.

A different novel might try to tie it all up, but this one doesn't. It throws out a million questions, but doesn't feel a particular need to answer them directly. It infers a few things, but it leaves a lot for you to ponder.

And that's a good thing, because the answers aren't the point. The point is the loneliness. The point is to wonder what would happen to a person if they were starved of touch and connection for so long. How much of their humanity they would hold onto. What they would reach for, how they would live in this perpetual unknowing.

Genuinely can't stop thinking about it. What a book to kick off the year.

🎮 Game: Tell Me Why, Dontnod Entertainment (2020)

I'm a big Life Is Strange girl. Gimme them games with all their big feelings and earnest messages and lovely musical interludes. So when I saw Tell Me Why on Game Pass, I thought, yes! Another one! Inject this into my veins, I'm so ready for it.

And it just ... didn't draw me in. Not to start with. It's much more hands-off than the LIS series. I was just kind of wandering around and looking at things. And to be honest, most of my favourite games are basically wandering around and looking at things, but I don't know, I think I was expecting something more here.

But I picked it up again this week and I think that I was being unfair. While it's obviously hugely rooted in Life Is Strange, it is not the same thing, nor does it claim to be. There's an interesting story to dig into here. You play as the twin brother-and-sister duo, Alyson and Tyler. To sum up their back story: in a horrific turn of events, their mother dies, and Tyler confesses to killing her. The twins spend their childhood apart, with Tyler being shipped off to juvie for doing all the murdering. At the age of 21, they reunite and return to their isolated childhood home in Alaska to prepare the house before it goes up for sale.

Only once they get there they are confronted by memories. Literally. They can see little ghostly child-versions of themselves, can trace their footsteps and relive small moments. And it's in these moments that you can start to piece together what actually happened: the good and the bad of their past is all here, and it's up to you to dig into it, to work out what actually happened.

The sibling bond is a big thing here, too. Formerly close, the years apart have taken their toll on Tyler and Alyson. While they're connected on some kind of reality-breaking soul level, they're not sure how to be around each other anymore. Your decisions directly impact their bond, and I find myself wanting to click the option that glues them back together, even if it's not always the intellectually honest one.

If you like these kind of games, I think it's worth a try. It plays around with the fallibility of human memory and the tales we tell ourselves to get by, which I find really interesting.

It's episodic, and the first two are free on Game Pass. I have yet to finish it. I'm here recommending it and it could have a really shit ending for all I know. But I don't think it will. If it does I'll report back.

🎶 Album: Swirling Violets, Conchúr White (2024)

One of the benefits of dragging myself out of the house and going to gigs again is being able to discover new support acts: I found Olivia Dean, Lewis OfMan, and Conchúr White this way. The latter supported Aqualung in a lovely and quite intimate gig in Bristol this year. I wrote about this before, but in the run-up, I was so hyped up to finally see Aqualung after all these years that I didn't even think about the support act. It only occurred to me when we got there, settled at our little table with our cans of Sprite (the discerning adult's drink of choice) that we were about to be introduced to someone new.

Then Conchúr White came on, played some beautiful songs, and cracked some good jokes, and instantly connected with everyone in the room.

His debut album, Swirling Violets, has been just the thing I need right now. I tried listening to it while I was writing an assignment but kept getting drawn in by these songs, their beauty and relatibility and general sense of longing. Righteous (Why Did I Feel Like That?) hits me in a really specific way as a former church-person trying to figure out what I think about God right now.

Rivers, I Did Good Today, and Swirling Violets are gorgeous but they all are, really. This album takes me out of myself, of my thoughts and my minor worries and the mundane to-do list that is always ticking over in my head. Connects me to actual life, plugs me into the deeper point of it all.

So yes. I can't listen while I'm studying, but I can listen while I'm writing. Occasionally I hit on a really good writing album and this is one of them. If I had to make comparisons, it's very Benjamin Francis-Leftwich/Ben Howard-ish. Those sort of vibes. Breaking the tradition of the Bens, namewise. He has his own sound, of course, and I like it a lot. Moody and deep and kind of otherworldy. I said at the beginning of this post that I want to skip winter, but this album is kind of rooting me in it, and not in a bad way.

I'm not very good at describing music, it's not really in my writing wheelhouse, but that's what my instincts tell me. Hopefully this is flattering and not insulting. Anyway, you should stop listening to me and start listening to him instead.

That's it for now. This week I finally finished an assignment I have been grappling with for weeks, and I also did some horrible grown-up financial things I've been putting off. My brain is now clear, and I spent some time daydreaming about all the things I want to write about. So that's exciting.

Thanks for all the support on last week's post. I'm quite happy to have a new platform to work with now. Unfortunately, I've lost all my Substack-induced discoverability now, and a good chunk of my subscribers came from within Substack itself. So if you do like this and you enjoyed it, please give it a share and subscribe if you haven't already. Not because my ego is fragile and I need the boost or anything. Just because it's a nice thing to do, you know? Small acts of kindness, etc. I don't even know what I'm saying anymore. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday. <3