Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Mother/Daughter Bookswap 4 April

I know,I know, it's June and now I'm telling you about April's bookswap. What can I say? We read the books, but then it was the Marathon and 3 weeks of GCSEs and the Hay Festival, and three more weeks of GCSEs. So we never got round to the conversation (and are two months behind on reading). But that's all behind us now. GCSEs are done and Beth is fired up by her 'A' Level English reading list (which helpfully coincides with several of the books on our list) so here we are again. We've been noticing our books seem to have an unintentional connection (March were both set in Africa and both in a way dealt with colonialism; February books both featured orphans and being trapped by situations; January young oppressed women finding their voices) which this month is coming out stories. Beth's book for me was 'Will Grayson, Will Grayson' by John Green and David Leviathan This is what she said: A guy named Will Grayson meets another guy named Will Grayson. Hilarity ensues. Again, a bit rude, but it’s by John Green so you know it’s gotta be good. A+ This is what I said: This was an interesting premise. Each author writes 'their' Will Grayson in alternating chapters. Green's Will is straight, but an inadvertent public supporter of gay rights because he felt impelled to stand up for his best friend Tiny (who is actually huge). Like many lifelong friends they drive each other crazy but love each other deeply even if they can't say it. Leviathan's Will is gay and depressed, hangs out with a girl in class playing a game of deliberate disaffection while he conducts an on-line affair with a boy from out of town. The two Wills meet by chance in a bookshop when straight Will can't get into a concert with Tiny and his friends and gay Will has just discovered his on-line lover is a fictional creation of his day time female friend. The story then follows as this encounter leads to Tiny and gay Will getting together in a passionate relationship bound to end in tears, whilst straight Will grapples with jealousy and tries to work out what he really feels about Tiny's friend, Jane. All set to the backdrop of Tiny somewhat improbably putting a school musical based on his life and featuring a thinly disguised straight Will. I enjoyed it a lot, because both writers make you care about each Will and both narratives get to the heart of adolescent insecurities well. I have to say I did find Tiny a bit twee and OTT, and the whole musical thing passed me by (but no doubt appealed to the Glee generation) but it s well paced and makes you feel for the characters. Not as good as 'A Fault in Our Stars' but I enjoyed it none the less. My book for Beth was supposed to be 'Pride and Prejudice' but I got muddled and gave her 'Oranges are not the only Fruit' by Jeanette Winterson This is what I said: This brilliant coming of age novel details the struggles of a young girl, growing up in a deeply religious family. When she discovers she is gay she realises she will have to choose between God and her family and the person she wants to be. A fictional account of real experience, Winterson says this is the story she could bear to tell at the time. A+++ This is what Beth said: I thought it was good. I really liked the division of chapters, Genesis,Exodus and the biblical theme. That was quite clever. I really liked the central character who refused to agree that anything was wrong with her though everyone was telling her she shouldn't be gay. I liked the wandering stories, and I understood the point of them,, but they really frustrated me as I wanted to end each story and they didn't finish! So now we have to do a bit of catching up. My book for Beth is 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens. Since Dickens is on her reading list and she has to write a review, she's ready to get going on that one. I've made a start on 'Clockwork Angel' by Cassandra Clare, which I'm enjoying so far...Will be back as soon as we can to tell you what I think.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Mother/Daughter Book Swap 3. March

Month three coincided with Beth's revision schedule moving up a gear as GCSEs are getting closer. Also, she wasn't such a fan of Graham Greene, so she didn't race through her book as she normally does. Consequently we're running a bit behind! So this is what I said about 'The Heart of the Matter' by Graham Greene: Set in colonial West Africa during the Second World War, this book deals with the life of Scobie, a deputy police commissioner. Trapped in an unhappy marriage and trying to avoid the bribes of Syrian smugglers, Scobie tries to do the right thing until events overwhelm him. Heartbreaking. A+ This is what Beth thought: It was well written and has interesting use of language. But it didn't have much a plot and it was SO boring and depressing. It was really depressing. Not the most successful one then... This is Beth's assessment of "Deadlands" by Lily Herne: Yes, OK, this is a zombie book. But: it’s got loads of kick-ass female characters, political intrigue + anarchy! I’m only putting the first book down because I GUARANTEE you will want to read the sequels A+++ And this is what I thought: I was dreading this one, as I'm not a fan of zombie books, but I was pleasantly surprised. Beth was right about the kick-ass females and that I'd wanted to read the sequels. I liked the explanation for why zombies existed (an alien invasion leading to a virus that infected and reanimated dead bodies) and the members of the teen gang were much more interesting then those in 'Thieves Like Us'. Nice to have a black heroine in Lele, and I loved her tough and stubborn character. Atmospheric, dark and exciting, it left me wanting more. With Beth's GCSE's getting closer, it's good her next book is short. I hope she likes 'Oranges are no the only fruit' by Jeanette Winterson more than 'The Heart of the Matter'. Meanwhile, I have begun "Will Grayson, Will Grayson" by John Green. Vastly different from 'The Fault in our Stars' which I liked but I'm enjoying it so far. As always we'll tell you what we think in a month.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Mother/Daughter Bookswap 2. February

So this month's books were "Thieves like us" for me and "Jane Eyre" for Beth. After the roaring success of our first reads, what did we think of February's fare?

"Thieves like us" by Stephen Cole.

Here's what Beth said:

A group of teenagers are recruited to steal stuff. Bit rude, but lots of fun – and sometimes magic! Oooh! B+

Here's what I thought:

Action heists are not quite my thing, so this was a bit of a struggle for me. This wasn't helped by the fact that Coldhardt, the criminal millionaire who recruited the malcontent teenagers was pretty manipulative and not above using the young girls' sexuality to further his ends, which I found a bit creepy. Having said that, some of the action sequences were very pacy (particularly the dramatic rescue at the beginning) and the hero, Jonah, was very engaging. I also liked Tye his love interest, as she was a fairly rounded and interesting character. And I get the appeal of kids breaking and entering, deciphering codes, kicking bad guys and driving fast cars. Beth tells me that by the end of the series Coldhardt is much more sympathetic but I'll take her word for it.  I quite enjoyed this in the end, but have no burning desire to follow the fortunes of the gang any further.

"Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte.

Here's what I said:

Another story of an abused young woman growing up to take control of her life, it follows the orphaned Jane from the home of her aunt, to school and then to be a governess. Possibly the first feminist novel, with a wonderful heroine, slightly dubious hero and fabulous Gothic setting. A+++

Here's what Beth thought:

I really liked the character of Jane Eyre and I enjoyed the mystery of it. I didn't quite like Mr Rochester so much and I thought the ending was a bit convenient. Overall, I enjoyed it.

(Note - she's not wrong about Mr Rochester. Can I also say how much I enjoyed her outrage at Jane's mistreatment by Mr Brocklehurst?)

And now, the moment cannot be put off. We have found "Deadlands" and I will have to face the zombies. Beth, meanwhile, has Graham Greene's "The Heart of the Matter". I wonder how she'll react to all that intense Catholicism.

Back next month to let you know the results.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Mother/Daughter Bookswap 1. - January.

My book for Beth  - "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker
Beth's book for me - "All The Truth That's In Me" by Julie Berry

The Mother/Daughter Bookswap got off to a fabulous start with us both loving the other's recommended reads. Here's what we thought...

"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker

What I said:

This was a ground breaking novel when it came out - there hadn't been many stories about black women told by black women before. Celie, the protagonist is beautifully written - a young girl who overcomes the most appalling abuse to find happiness and a sense of self. A+

What Beth said:

It was a really good book. I really loved the main character and was rooting for her through the entire thing. The tone was a bit jarring at first - but it was a really interesting way to show a black woman's voice without westernising it, and made it more authentic. It was a beautiful story and I loved all the characters. I'm excited to read the sequel ("Possessing the Secret of Joy") which features Tashi.

"All The Truth That's In Me" by Julie Berry

What Beth said:

I have NO WORDS for this book. IT'S SO GOOD. (This is a joke, you'll understand when you read the book)*. Maybe don't read it first as it will set the bar way too high. Also really feminist!  A+++

*(yes I get it)

What I said:

Beth was right. This is a wonderful book, which is utterly compelling from the very first page. Judith, the heroine, lives on the edges of a small rural community in colonial America. An outcast since she returned from a mysterious disappearance after her friend’s murder, she is unable to communicate because her half her tongue has been cut out.  Despised  by her mother and brother she pours out all her thoughts and feelings towards Lucas, the young man she has always loved, who is about to marry someone else.  When the village comes under threat from native Indians, she begins to confront her past, encountering kindness and cruelty along  the way. The novel is told in the second person, which is possibly the most challenging voice to write in, but here  it is a perfect mechanism to capture Judith's desperate yearnings. The result is another beautiful story about the oppressive nature of small communities, courage,  determination and a young woman discovering her voice. Highly recommended.

And now we're in February I'm down to read "Thieves Like Us" by Stephen Cole, and Beth's reading "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte. (I was due to read one of the zombie books but since it's on loan to a friend, I get another zombie free month).  "Thieves Like Us"is very different from "All Truth That's In Me" but has got off to a good start. I'm wondering what Beth will make of "Jane Eyre." We'll be back in a month  to let you know.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Mother/Daughter Book Swap

Given that Chris and I are both avid readers, it is no surprise that our children are too. When they were little we practically lived in our local library. When we moved to Oxford, the literary festival became an important event in the calendar, and in the last four years, the Hay Festival has become essential to us. And when Beth and Claire recently moved their bedroom round, their pride and joy was the book corner they created - wall to wall books arranged so the spines are colour-coordinated. Books really matter in this house.

However, up until recently, most of the books they've been interested in have been young adult or teen fiction. Occasionally one of them will pick up one of mine or Chris' books because it's grabbed their attention, but usually if I make a recommendation they don't bite. I've tried not to push my thoughts on what to read too much, as my dad, the English teacher, often used to bombard me with books I should read and then question me intensely about my thoughts on them. Instead I've been hoping that one of these days they might want to start reading the books I read.

Beth turned 16 recently and has decided she wants to do English Literature for "A" Level  next year (hooray). When I mentioned that perhaps it was time she started reading some classics, she thought about it for a bit and then set me a challenge. She'd read my recommended books, if I read hers. So we've set up our very own book swap. A book a month for 2015. She gave me her list on Thursday, complete with two line summaries and a rating, and I gave her mine yesterday (though my summaries were not as concise or as neatly written). We've both agonised over our lists as we've had to exclude books we love and changed our minds about some of the books we've included. Beth's already read my first choice ("The Colour Purple" by Alice Walker) and I've dipped into hers ("All the truth that's in me" by Julie Berry) which is great so far. I can see this is going to be a lot of fun, even if I do have to read some zombie books.

Several people expressed interest in our lists, so here they are:

Beth's list for me:

January - "All the truth that's in me" by Julie Berry.
February - "Deadlands" by Lily Herne.
March - "Thieves like us" by Stephen Cole.
April - "Will Grayson, Will Grayson" by John Green.
May - "Clockwork Angel" by Cassandra Clare.
June - "Raven's Gate" by Anthony Horowitz.
July - "The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender" by Lesley Walton.
August - "Timeriders" by Alex Scarrow.
September - "Paper Towns" by John Green.
October - "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" by Rick Riordan.
November - "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins.
December - "Skullduggery Pleasant" by Derek Landy.

My list for Beth:

January - "The Colour Purple" by Alice Walker.
February - "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte.
March - "The Heart of the Matter" by Graham Greene.
April - "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.
May - "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens.
June - "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson.
July "The Humans" by Matt Haig.
August - "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte
September - "Oranges are not the only fruit" by Jeanette Winterson.
October - "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell.
November - "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood.
December - "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver.

We'll let you know what we think.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

It runs in the family.

I've just spent the last  few days archiving my parents' papers. I've always been fascinated by family history, so it was a real treat to have the time to search through note books, scraps of paper, and files scattered around the house and organising them. As a child, I loved to hear stories from both my parents, so I didn't think the collection would bring me many surprises.  At first this seemed to be the case as I came across many things that I'd seen before. I quickly found an excerpt from my Great Uncle Bert's memoirs, a box full of my father's employer references (each detailing his passion, skill and commitment as a teacher) and all my mother's articles about her many journeys overseas. I didn't have time to read them in detail, but it was both pleasant and comforting to look through them again.

Once I'd cleared the writing desk, I thought the job was done, until my sister pointed out a large drawer in  a cupboard in the next room which was crammed full of books and sheets of A4. I hadn't looked at it for years, and it dawned on me that I might come across some of the plays my Dad wrote for us. I was particularly keen to find one called  "The Knight of the Urgent Detergent" which he used to read to us at bed time. But the first things I came across were several versions of a script for "Rumplestiltskin" written for us children to perform. I'd completely forgotten that one, and as I read I was taken right back to the Christmases of my childhood when we'd put on plays with whatever friends were around. As well as Rumplestiltskin there were also many poems and a putative version of "The Elves and the Shoemaker". After that I did find fragments of a play which I think was the "Urgent Detergent" one as it involved a knight, a king, a queen, a witch and a cat, which felt familiar. It was every bit as funny as I remember, reminding me how much I'd wanted him to get them published. Alas! being a busy teacher with 8 children and bills to pay, he never quite found the time.

As I was leafing through the papers, I came across some notes about writing  screenplay and then some short stories dated 1961, with some critique attached. I was wondering whether he'd gone to a writing class (if such a thing existed in the 1960's) when I realised my mistake. The "J" Moffatt in question was my grandmother, Jane, not my Dad at all. She'd written the stories in her mid 70's five years before she died. I choked when I saw her name in full. I had no idea she wrote.

My twin sister (the writer Julia Williams) and I were a year old when our grandmother died. Though we never knew her properly, we were both fascinated by her life. She was a highly intelligent woman who managed to gain a place to study English at Liverpool University at the beginning of the last century. However, her father (whether due to finances, sexism or both) would not let her go. Our Dad was very close to his mother and always felt this injustice deeply.  Which was why he was so determined my sisters and I were well educated. It's why Julia studied English at Liverpool 80 years later, and goes by our grandmother's maiden name on her blog. And it's why my character, Elsie in my unpublished (as yet) novel, "Echo Hall" is Liverpudlian and was denied a chance to go to University.

Our grandmother had a hard life. She married young, and at 48 was a widow with dependent children.  Unable to find work in Liverpool due to the Depression, she was forced to uproot and move 200 miles south. She did eventually find a job as a teacher, and was a very successful one. Nonetheless she was never able to achieve her full potential.
So it's both sad and wonderful that she was writing in her seventies. Sad because if she'd had money and a room of her own sooner, who knows what she might have achieved? But wonderful, because at the end of her life she was thinking up characters and working hard to make them live on the page. 

It's been brilliant to discover this new connection with my grandmother and to realise that writing really does run in our family. I hope that she'd be pleased to think the twin babies she held in the year before her death have both become published writers. I hope she'd enjoy the stories we write. I'm certainly looking forward to reading hers properly.  And from now on - whenever I write - I'll be writing for her.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Sublime Screenplay - "Homeland"

Chris and I have been "Homeland" fans since the first twisty tense episodes were aired in the UK in 2012. The fourth series has just drawn to a close and it's given me much food for thought. So I've taken some time to reflect what it is about this show that I love so much..

The first series of "Homeland" is undoubtedly the best. It towers above similar TV programmes due to two particular features. Firstly, there is the compelling relationship between CIA agent Carrie Mathison (played by Claire Danes) and Sergeant Nicolas Brody (Damian Lewis) a marine rescued in Iraq after 8 years incarceration. Carrie's belief that Brody has been turned whilst a prisoner, is the driving force of the story, and is beautifully played by both leads, with the writers stringing out  "is he/isn't he?" for the majority of the series. The tension is compounded by the fact that Carrie is (as her mentor Saul puts it in series 2) "the smartest and the dumbest fucking person" around. She is great at gathering intelligence, building assets and working out what's happening but has a tendency to recklessness that constantly undermines her good efforts. She is also bipolar. Whilst this doesn't stop her from doing a good job, the fact she is hiding from her superiors puts her under  the constant fear of discovery. And her decision to stop taking her meds to clarify her thought processes leads to increasing erratic behaviour. Brody, on the other hand, is shown to be traumatised by his experiences, and has a violent streak, which may or may not have been the result of his imprisonment and torture. Whilst he loves his family, particularly his daughter Dana, he struggles to reconnect with them. And though initially he appears to be telling the truth, we gradually discover there are things about his imprisonment that he is hiding, including the fact he has converted to Islam. All of which makes us root for both of them, whilst simultaneously asking can either be trusted?

The second aspect of "Homeland" that sets it apart is the refusal to simplify the issues it addresses. The show purports to portray a group of patriotic Americans trying to protect their homeland from the evil of terrorism but it rarely sticks to the narrative of Americans good, Islamic terrorists bad.  When we first hear about the Al-Qaeda leader Abu Nazir he appears to be a bogeyman much like Osama Bin Laden.  Yet as the story progresses, we begin to see snatches of the human being behind the atrocities, to understand his world view and what motivates him. We see the impact of some of his heinous acts alongside US drone strikes and botched FBI raids on mosques that make us question the behaviour of both sides. Which is to be welcomed on a mainstream US TV show. It's not a perfect critique, as too often there is an emphasis that American lives are more important than any others, nonetheless we are allowed to see that the "war on terror" leads to all parties making dubious moral choices.

By the time series 1 has finished (in a breathlessly thrilling finale, that had me gasping with relief at advert breaks) some things are resolved between Brody and Carrie, but much is not. Thus the second series is able to develop their relationship further, whilst exploring some key "Homeland" themes - loyalty, betrayal, self-interest, trust - and involve others in the story. We see more of Saul (Mandy Pantinkin), Carrie's mentor; Estes (David Harewood), her boss and former lover; and are introduced to Quinn (Rupert Friend), another CIA analyst with a dark side, as they try to establish what Abu Nazir's next move might be. Unfortunately we also see way too much of Brody's family, who are less interesting (except for his daughter Dana, played by Morgan Saylor). Whilst this series lacks some of the tension of the first season, Carrie's erratic behaviour grates a bit, and there's a very irritating "Carrie-in-peril" section, there is a lot they get right. Violent interrogation scenes and windowless prisons feature prominently, more often in America, than in the middle East  throwing into question America's right to consider itself superior to its enemies. Characters are presented with impossible choices, make decisions with unforeseen consequences, and the narrative twists are often dizzying. The final episode appears to be setting us up for a somewhat improbable happy ending, before pulling the rug from under us with a devastating explosion which calls loyalties into question once more.

Series 3 was bound to disappoint after that. And though it's not terrible, it doesn't really reach the heights of the first two. The best bits are early on. Carrie suffers a terrible betrayal, and she and Brody end up in  hellish situations bringing us back to the theme of what captivity does to a person. There's a phenomenal twist a third of the way through, that changes everything, and Quinn is forced to face up to the amorality of his job when a hit goes spectacularly wrong. Saul meanwhile is facing down political machinations as he tries to stay in position as temporary CIA head, whilst discovering who planted the series 2 bomb. And we have several new "bad" guys to watch out for - the Machiavellian Senator Lockhart, Dar Nadal, the shadowy CIA man in charge of "black" ops, and the Iranian Javadi who replaces Abu Nazir as the CIA's target. All of which is good, as are some of the moral dilemmas we witness. There is one situation in particular that really forces you to question what kind of mission is so important that an individual can get away with a horribly violent murder?  But for a lot of the time it gets bogged down with long subplots involving Dana Brody (it is important we some of her reaction to events of the previous series, but we get far far too much of her). And there's also too much emphasis on Carrie/Brody being in love, which I never really bought and which makes Carrie more erratic and less sympathetic. Thankfully that relationship concludes in the finale, leaving us with the intriguing prospect of a Brodyless "Homeland" for series 4.

I'm pleased to say that the latest series, which has just concluded, was absolutely back on form. Whilst I don't think it can ever get back to the brilliance of the first season this was pretty darned close. Without Brody there's room for Carrie's relationships with Saul and Quinn to develop, and moving the action to Pakistan was a wise decision. Not only does it change the level of jeopardy for everyone, but it really opens up what the show is about.  Post series 3, Carrie has been appointed to be station chief in Afghanistan, where she leaves a hermetically sealed existence in a safe American compound, whilst authorising drone strikes against people on the "kill" list.  Previous events have clearly traumatised her. She is not the emotionally volatile Carrie we've known to date, and seems able to make coldblooded decisions without remorse. She's become so "good" at it that her team call her the "Drone Queen". Even when a drone strike hits a wedding killing several civilians, she seems more intent on finding out what went wrong with the intelligence, than worrying about the victims. It is only Quinn, who knows from personal experience what professional extrajudicial killing does to a person,  who is prepared to challenge her, though she is having none of it.

From this beginning, we follow Carrie, Quinn and Saul as they are sucked into Pakistani politics and find themselves up against not only the terrorists but their supposed allies, the Pakistani secret service, ISI. Apparently Pakistan has complained about this storyline as they feel it unfair in the light of their support for the war on terror. I can understand that, but I do wonder if there aren't some in Pakistan who might feel as these characters do, that the alliance with America has done them more harm than good. And fictionally it makes for an intriguing set up. As Carrie sets up a team to find out what really happened and to hunt down the new "enemy" the Taliban leader Haqqani, we simultaneously see the ISI operatives setting up a counter operation against the CIA, targeting Carrie and Saul along the way. Tasneem (Nimrat Kaur) Carrie's counterpart is shown as an effective agent, working through the weak husband (Mark Moses) of the American Ambassador (Laila Robins).Whilst for a long time we can't work out whether her colleague Aasar Khan (Raza Jaffrey) is to be trusted he emerges as an important figure for Carrie.

Being in Pakistan, we also get much closer to Haqqani then we did to Abu Nasir and Javadi, which allows us to see him in a more sympathetic light at times. We understand he too is working for his "Homeland" (Afghanistan), and we are provided with evidence that the more "bad" guys the US kill, the more enemies they create. Meanwhile, the old familiar themes of self interest, loyalty, betrayal and who you can trust, are played out in different ways with terrible consequences for everyone. The tension builds episode by episode, pushing Carrie, Quinn and Saul to the absolute limit, and testing Carrie and Saul's friendship more than it's ever been tested before. By the time we reach the shocking 10th episode "13 Hours in Islamabad", everyone has been forced to question their actions with Carrie concluding bleakly "We lost". And what's true in the fictional world - Carrie and her colleagues are totally outplayed, America seems redundant in the region, and the Taliban is on the ascendant - also is a reasonable reflection of reality. Just as the series aired,  the US and UK are leaving Afghanistan,  in a much worse state then the entered it in 2001, with very few of the military goals achieved. Given how the media have celebrated the war on terror, it is refreshing to see a mainstream TV show demonstrate how badly the mission has failed. (As a side note, I was also pleased to see this series that the fact Carrie is bipolar is incidental. She is clearly able to hold down an important job which she does well, and it is only when she is given the wrong medication that there is a problem. And that's simply a case of her enemies play her weakness well, which even she admits is what she'd have done too).

The second half of the series is full of thrills, action and violence, so it is a surprise when the finale returns us to the quiet of Washington. This decision has clearly divided the audience, many of whom felt the season came to an end with a whimper. I can understand that. Knowing how often "Homeland" has pulled a dramatic twist out of the closing seconds, I was waiting the whole episode for something horrible to happen. However, the fact that it didn't, doesn't undermine that episode for me. After weeks spent with the characters in danger, and with the knowledge that it all went so horribly wrong, there is something surreal about watching them back home, safe in domestic settings. For me, this is a nice nod to the first series when Brody returns from horror to ordinary life again, and wonders if anything can be normal again.  And it also allows us to take a moment to ask, what was all that violence for? What did it actually achieve? As all the characters reflect on that they are all given the chance to walk away, to take up that ordinary life and leave the horrors to other people. And yet, it is clear from the closing scenes, that none of them can. Whether because of failed relationships, misguided loyalty, self interest, or a desire to "put it right", they are all wedded to the fortunes of the morally ambiguous CIA. Even though they know that means they'll end up doing bad things for good reasons time and time again and make appalling compromises for the sake of the bigger picture, the Agency (much like the Mafia members in The Sopranos or the gangs in The Wire) is the family they can never escape.

"Homeland" can be a hard watch. It takes great delight in building up tension, relieving it, then throwing in something even worse. The violence is uncompromising when it happens, and often makes me flinch. But what makes the show so absorbing is that the story is peopled by such real flawed characters, whose are actions may come from good intent but are just as likely to have mixed motives. I love Carrie, as a strong intelligent woman in a man's world, who likes to think she is doing the right thing. Yet she can be manipulative, selfish, hard hearted, and some of her actions in this series are beyond defensible. Quinn's regrets at his past behaviour have often set him up as the moral hero this season - he has shown compassion and sensitivity and regret for previous actions and frequently suggested he wants out. Then, just as we are thinking what a good guy he is, we notice his instruments for torture laid out ready as he prepares to interrogate a subject. I'm glad we didn't get to see him use them, (particularly in the week when the revelations of US torture were hitting the headlines), yet it was important to show what he is capable of. Carrie, Quinn and Saul are basically decent people who joined the CIA to keep their country safe. Yet they are just as happy to resort to torture or killing innocent people to achieve their aims.  How does that make them any different from Abu Nasir, Javadi or Haqqani? In fact, Carrie's orders to kill are done with just as much a cold hearted calculation as Haqqani's brutal stabbings. Which demonstrates for me how morally confused America has become in the last 14 years.

David Nevin (chief of Showtime the company that broadcasts "Homeland") says the show tries to demonstrate  "how difficult America's position in the world is in the 21st century" illustrating the "complexity of the U.S. position in the Muslim world."  Though at times "Homeland" can be improbable, cartoonish and meandering, and can sometimes fall into the trap of justifying American violence, when it focusses on this aim, through its challenging stories and complex characters, it absolutely fulfils that brief. Which is why I've been watching all this time, and can't wait to see what happens next.