Book Review: The Monkey’s Mask, Dorothy Porter

Goodreads Blurb:
The Monkey’s Mask is a totally unique experience. It’s poetry. It’s a crime thriller. It’s where high art meets low life, passion meets betrayal, and poetry faces profanity on the streets of a harsh modern city. Dorothy Porter’s internationally bestselling verse novel holds you in its grip from the first verse paragraph to the final haunting pages. 

“I want you, trouble,
on the rocks.”

My Thoughts:
Dorothy Porter’s The Monkey’s Mask is one of many novels I probably wouldn’t have picked up at all if it weren’t for my university course, and I am thankful I did, as it is something I’m very glad I’ve read. Porter manages to seamlessly blend the genres of crime thriller and lesbian romance into near three-hundred pages of verse. Yes, you heard me correctly! Verse. This somewhat unusual combination of crime, passion, and poetry makes for an intensely engaging read right to the last line.

The Monkey’s Mask follows the story of Jill Fitzpatrick, an Australian Personal Investigator living in the Blue Mountains. She is brought back to Sydney on a missing persons case, recruited by word of mouth; Mrs Norris’ daughter, Mickey, is missing and she called Jill to try and find her. Jill obliges, and so picks up the trail of the missing student. Pulled into Mickey’s world of poetry and passion, she manages, also, to quite quickly find a love of her own. As Jill gets closer to the truth, she unravels a much deeper plot that just the ‘girl gone missing’ she’d anticipated, and within that learns that love and lust though advertised as near the same are in fact near opposite.

Though this novel can be advertised as a crime thriller, in her choice to write in verse, Porter loses the ability to put as much detail in in terms of the actual mystery. This is substituted with extensive metaphor and an observant, but almost vague internal monologue. This in no way takes away completely from the detective story, in fact, for me, it enhanced the mystery of the whole plot itself. As well as this, the sectioned collections of verse leave way for a much deeper development off character, especially on the part of Jill. It must be noted though that for a lot of the novel, our detective, Jill, is lusting over Diana, one of Mickey’s tutors. This romance makes for some very erotic poems, which somewhat go against the grain of the darker undertones of this novel. None the less, these poems make up the rich intensity of the whole collection, and without them, it is possible the novel would fall quite flat.

The poems themselves are rich with a very emotive and accessible language, in a simple but effective form. So for those who feel they don’t really get poetry, this is for you. Porter’s verse is gritty, raw, and something which will stick with you quite a while after you have closed the book. In doing this, she has created a rich and inviting world of something which for most is very familiar territory. Each section of the novel sets up a different tone and theme, letting each poem push the passage of time and carry you through Jill’s thought processors throughout the case.

One poem which is most memorable for me comes from early in the first section in the novel ‘The New Job’, it is titled, I’m Female. Though short, it hints subtly at Jill’s characterisation, and more than that, sets up the tone and themes of the novel quite beautifully.

“I’m not tough,
droll or stoical.

I droop,
after wine, sex
or intense conversation.

The streets coil around me
when they empty
I’m female
I get scared.”

In writing The Monkey’s Mask, Porter has cleverly toed the line between the genres of crime and romance, and managed to mix them in a way which makes them recognisable as separate, but also something new when seen as one. This is a deeply powerful read for those who aren’t so familiar with poetry and lovers of poetry alike. Despite the lack of undivided focus on the advertised main genre of detective fiction, The Monkey’s Mask is an intense and encapsulating read. Which for me, meant that I was hooked from page one, and unintentionally read it all in one sitting, before diving back in to almost immediately read it again.


TV Review: Doctor Who S10E02 ‘Smile’


So Doctor Who is back, and since I’m neck deep in a film criticism subject at uni I’ve decided to continue this with a ‘Who’ related project! I’ll be reviewing each episode as they air, and posting them here for your enjoyment. Here goes, Episode 2 – Smile:

“Between here and my office, before the kettle boils…is everything that ever happened or ever will. Make your choice. Past or future?”

This week our 2000 year old alien the Doctor takes Bill to the future. Why? To see if it’s happy. In this future however, we soon find out, you need to smile to survive…

Sometime in the future, humans have had to leave earth for another planet and colonise again. This time with the help of robots they built called the Vardi. On the surface, to the Doctor and Bill, it seems the emoji speaking, robots are simply that. Helpers to the human race, setting up for when the humans arrive. It’s not long after the pair receive emotion reading badges from one Vardi and they notice the lack of people that they begin to question the whole setup, to drastic effects. The Doctor and Bill go from one stressful situation to another while always having to smile, which is no easy feat when you’re running for your life.

There is something endearing yet oddly off-putting about a small robot who speaks in the form of beeps and emoticons. The strange familiarity of the form of communication makes for a rather entertaining robot, especially when you put a bemused Doctor and surprised Bill in front of it. This episode cemented what I said last week about Bill’s very human, and very relatable characterisation. She is completely fascinated by the alien world but still asks questions that we honestly haven’t heard before on Doctor Who, and it’s not just because of the situation the characters are in. This brings us to one of my favourite throwaway lines of the episode: The Doctor mentions the fact of his two hearts and the conversation that follows, short but sweet, says a lot about Bill’s delightfully odd yet logical thought process. You can see Bill considering the Doctor’s words as she listens to his excitement filled spiel about the ingenuity of the Vardi.

Bill: “Yeah, hearts though…why two?”

The Doctor: “Well, why one?”

Bill: “Does that mean you’ve got really high blood pressure?”

The Doctor: “Really high.”

It is hard to tell just how serious the Doctor’s response is to the question, but by the time you consider it the pair have already moved on to somewhere new.

Once the Doctor realises just how dangerous the Vardi are, the concept of happiness as an enforced staple becomes much more sinister. The knowledge that happiness equals life helps the Doctor and Bill to survive the Vardi, but there is only so much they can do once the rest of the colony wakes up. As it turns out the Vardi had never encountered grief, and when one of the colony members died of natural causes the grief spread through the workers. The alien emotion was something the Vardi wanted to eradicate, so they did so in the only way they knew how.

Despite the roundedness of this concept, there is something rather contrived, and maybe almost ridiculous about the use of a fake smile to protect you from the emotion reading robots. (Pun intended). So in the Doctor’s words, “Do you know what it means when something chases you very slowly? It means there’s a reason you don’t have to run.”, it is easy to see that the Vardi are only the initial cause, it’s the ‘flesh disintegrating’ flying micro-bots which do the dirty work. Thus somehow, the Vardi become much less sinister, and much closer to a manmade gimmick used as a nod to old earth culture. Not so scary now, right? Well, only if you’re still smiling!

As a whole this episode was very pleasing. Plenty of comedy, the time old doomed future of the human race, a lot of the Doctor coming to the wrong conclusions and backtracking, and an appropriate amount of running. As well as this, though questions have been answered in terms of the vault the Doctor and Nardol have been charged with guarding, this has only left additional questions for us to ponder until next week. Despite this the plot falls short of the nail biting fear and/or excitement of last week, and that of the normal Doctor Who episode. I have to say though that I am liking Bill as a companion more and more. She manages to bring out a much bubblier side to Capaldi’s Doctor. He seems to feed off her strange questions and odd sense of humour to make a very amusing dynamic. Thank you to the Doctor Who team for the spot-on casting with Pearl Mackie as Bill, she really is bringing a lot of life to the show!

So until next week…don’t forget to smile!

Rating: 8/10


TV Review: Doctor Who S10E01 ‘The Pilot’


So Doctor Who is back, and since I’m neck deep in a film criticism subject at uni I’ve decided to continue this with a ‘Who’ related project! I’ll be reviewing each episode as they air, and posting them here for your enjoyment. Here goes, Episode 1 – The Pilot:

“Well, most people when they don’t understand something, they frown. You…smile.”

So, Doctor Who is back for Series 10, and it’s not just back…it is back! And terrifyingly so!

For those who may not be totally clued in on the ins and outs of this crazy show, Doctor Who follows the story of 2000 year old alien who stole a time machine from his own people and ran away with it. He now travels throughout time and space with human – and sometimes, not so human – companions; fighting aliens, saving planets, and doing an awful lot of running. That’s the short, errm, very short version, but it’s enough to be getting on with for now.

Last time we saw the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) he’d just said goodbye to two of his previous companions. As per usual, we only see the remnants of that grief, but it always managed to come through in the most beautiful, and delicate moments. Despite this the first we see of the Doctor this episode he returns with the sonic sunglasses and the electric guitar, playing the first few riffs of what sounds like the Doctor Who theme. New companion, Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) is introduced with the backdrop of a much gentler but lively piece, so before she has even spoken, you have already grasped some of her warm and funny character.

The first thing I should say about this episode though, is that it was bloody scary. There is no other way to put it. It has been quite a while since an episode has really given me the shivers, and sitting in that cinema tonight was no exception. Producer, and writer for this episode, Steven Moffat has managed to yet again add to my list of the mundane which now can put me on edge. So far:

  • Children wearing gasmasks
  • Angel statues
  • Shadows
  • Cracks in the wall

…and now

  • Puddles, and the sound of a dripping tap.

Thanks Moffat!

It sounds ridiculous, but it will make sense later.

After reuniting with the Doctor, we soon discover that he’s been lecturing at a university for quite a while now. Nardole (Matt Lucas), a previous companion, is keeping him company while helping him to hoard something under the university. As usual, the Doctors’ job has become a cover for something much more dangerous going on in the background. A something which is locked securely behind heavy, and mechanical looking doors. This is where Bill comes in, she’s not a student, but she works in the university canteen serving chips, and much to the Doctors’ bemusement, she still attends his lectures. Bill is soon swept up in the Doctors’ crazy world as he offers to tutor her for no other reason than that she smiles when she doesn’t understand something in his lectures.

From here on in we begin to see much more of Bill and her own personal life. This is a breath of fresh air for Doctor Who, whose companions more recently have usually had some sort of connection to the Doctor’s world prior to their introduction. Bill, refreshingly, is oh so very human, with a human life outside of her interaction with the Doctor which I feel will feature much more as the series progresses. She is full of life, funny, and honest, as well as seeming to have very little filter from mind to mouth. This comes into play very well in the sequence in which she is introduced to the TARDIS. The usual, ‘It’s bigger on the inside!’ comes much later, bringing a timely comedic sequence to the episode. I am looking forward to seeing where Bills character is taken in future episodes, as even just from this episode, I can tell I already love her. Putting the controversy over Bills’ sexuality aside. This episode drew out this aspect of her personality in a very natural way, not just nodding to it in passing, but also making it a part of the episode, which for me was something really nice to see.

Back to the monster of the week. Those puddles I was talking about before? Well here they are, and in true Moffat style, they aren’t really puddles. Nope, they are the sentient, fuel oil of an alien spaceship. In addition, it’s masquerading as Heather, a friend of Bills’ from university trying to lure her into traveling with her. The episode plays out the romantic tension between the two women, ultimately leading to an unexpectedly emotional ending. Something which I am not completely happy about. Though big bad for this episode does get a solid resolution, I have a gut feeling that ‘Pilot Heather’ will be back at some point. When (and if), however, we’ll have to wait and see.

I am honestly finding it very hard to fault this episode. Apart from some dubious plotting and the uncertainty of Nardoles’ character role, it had everything I asked for. A scary monster – even if in this case ‘monster’ is the wrong term – lets go with ‘misunderstood alien’, a funny, gorgeous, kick-ass companion, and plenty of well-timed humour, not to mention the fact the Doctor finally to Australia! One beautiful thing this episode had was quite a few nods to the last series and companions, both good, and some on the more emotional front. I am going to have to do another re-watch to pick them all out.

It will be interesting to see how this episode set up for the overarching plot or theme of the series. As well as this, the episode brought up numerous unanswered questions which I am already speculating on. Time will tell whether we get our answers or not. So, as the Doctor rightly put it, “What the hell!” bring on the rest of Series 10!

Rating: 9/10

I hope you all had a lovely Easter or long weekend for those who don’t celebrate it! 🙂



There’s nothing like a summer rain
Unexpected, unruly, untamed

It rolls on through

Quiet at first
But growing
To reach a thundering din

Clattering on your rooftops
Rushing down the drains
It presses summer tears
Down dusty window panes

Why then must you be saddened?
It’s only rain it’s true
But dance with me dear stranger
What else is there to do?

There’s nothing like a summer rain
Unexpected, unruly, untamed
This rain it frees your soul and more
To leave the sweetest petrichor