Blog Tours · Festive · Reviews · Seasonal Reads

BLOG TOUR!!! How Love Actually Ruined Christmas (or Colourful Narcotics) by Gary Raymond

RARELY HAS THE POWER OF CINEMA BEEN FELT BY SO MANY, IN SUCH OPPOSING WAYS…

“Love Actually dulls the critical senses, making those susceptible to its hallucinogenic powers think they’ve seen a funny, warm-hearted, romantic film about the many complex manifestations of love. Colourful Narcotics. A perfect description of a bafflingly popular film.”

By any reasonable measurement, Love Actually is a bad movie. There are plenty of bad movies out there, but what gets under Gary Raymond’s skin here is that it seems to have tricked so many people into thinking it’s a good movie.

In this hilarious, scene-by-scene analysis of the Christmas monolith that is Love Actually, Gary Raymond takes us through a suffocating quagmire of badly drawn characters, nonsensical plotlines, and open bigotry, to a climax of ill-conceived schmaltz. How Love Actually Ruined Christmas (or Colourful Narcotics) is the definitive case against a terrible movie.

Okay, confession time.

I KNOW that Richard Curtis’ Love Actually is a terrible movie.

I knew it was a terrible movie the first time I watched it – long before Lindy West’s infamous (and hilarious) take down of it for Jezebel, and long before I was old enough to truly appreciate the sheer depth of the misogyny, fat-shaming, and sheer smugness of it. And that’s before we even get onto the dodgy timeline, the numerous plot holes, and the fact that some of the actors were mostly definitely phoning it in for this one. I know all of this.

And yet, come Christmas, will I watch Love Actually? Will I crack a smile at Hugh Grant dancing around Downing Street to the sound of Girls Aloud?

Almost certainly.

I mean, look at that CAST! The fabulous soundtrack! All of the FEELS!!

This inexplainable appeal is at the heart of Gary Raymond’s How Love Actually Ruined Christmas (or Colourful Narcotics). Raymond, a presenter on the BBC Radio Wales’s The Review Show and editor for Wales Arts Review, likens Love Actually to being under the effect of some kind of narcotic substance. We know it’s bad for us, but we’re addicted to it anyway because of the feels.

His scene-by-scene account of the film is both thought-provoking and hilarious, mixing the astute eye of a film critic (Raymond really does make you realise how incredibly skewed the timeline is – Liam Neeson’s character goes from his wife’s funeral to dating Claudia Schiffer in the space of about 10 weeks), with a laugh-inducing blend of wry observation, cynical commentary, and downright frustration. His skewering of Curtis’ terrible characterisation and schmaltzy dialogue stays on the right side of witty, whilst his frustration with the film’s tone-deaf messaging is something that I share.

For me, Raymond’s dissection of Love Actually really comes into its own when he’s examining the motivations of the characters. Because you really do start to realise that none of the tropes that the movie wants you to invest in – that Andrew Lincoln’s Mark is a nice guy, that Alan Rickman’s Harry is a heartless husband and Emma Thompson’s Karen a long-suffering wife, and that Kris Marshall’s Colin is hilarious – really work the moment that you think about them for more than two seconds.

He also blows apart the notion that Love Actually is a Christmas movie by pointing out, quite correctly, that the central idea that you ‘have to tell the truth at Christmas’ is, at best, a misnomer and, at worse, an excuse to be particularly selfish at a time that really should be about others. Which, I have to admit, did come as a bitter pill to swallow for me. The one thing I thought I could say about Love Actually was that it fulfilled the requirements of being a Christmas film – the entire thing is, after all, overflowing with tinsel – but, alas, Raymond shows that not even a nativity play full of octopuses can give this film Christmas spirit.

So, having read Raymond’s brutal (and brutally funny) takedown of Love Actually, will I be watching it this Christmas? Well, never say never. Rowan Atkinson’s cameo as the over-attentive salesperson will always make me smile. And Emma Thompson remains a delight despite how little she gets to work with. But it’ll probably be further down the list than it has on previous years – well below A Muppet Christmas Carol and Arthur Christmas. And if I do watch it, it’ll be with the knowledge in the back of my mind that it really IS a terrible movie.

How Love Actually Ruined Christmas (or Colourful Narcotics) by Gary Raymond is published by Parthian and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Bookshop.org, Hive, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Emma from DampPebbles Blog Tours for organising and inviting me onto this tour. The tour continues until 5th December so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!! The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond

Golden Orphans Cover ImageWithin the dark heart of an abandoned city lies a terrible secret…

Francis Benthem is a successful artist; he’s created a new life on an island in the sun. He works all night, painting elusive images at the request of his eccentric Russian benefactor. When he’s found dead his protege, the only attendant at the funeral, finds himself mixed up in a mysterious underworld that had previously entangled Benthem.

His quest to find out what happened to the Golden Orphans, and to uncover the private face behind the public mask that Illerian Prostakov wears, leads the reader into the thrilling, sometimes surreal world of an island like no other, deep into the troubled past of its people: a nation split in two by invasion and embattled by organised crime. 

Combining the dark foreboding of a thriller with the luscious prose of literary fiction, The Golden Orphans offers an atmospheric modern fable that combines mystery and surrealism on the sunshine and scenery of Mediterranean island of Cyprus. It’s an unusual combination and one that is a little outside of my usual comfort zone but, despite some initial misgivings about the combination of Russian gangsters, troubled artists and Cypriot sunshine, I greatly enjoyed the book and raced through its 155 pages.

Beginning at the poorly-attended funeral of Francic Bentham, the novel follows his un-named protege as he becomes gradually entrapped within the surreal world of enigmatic Russian Illerian Prostakov; a man obsessed by a single image that taunts him in his dreams. As our un-named painter struggles to interpret his strange benefactor’s visions, he becomes embroiled in the history of Cyprus itself, from its current problems with trafficking and gangsters to old divisions created during the Turkish invasion. And at the heart of it all lies a ghostly city and the mystery of the Golden Orphans. Gary Raymond has packed a surprising amount of plot into this slender volume but it never feels too much. Instead, the gradual layering of each new strand adds to the mystery and the strange, trance-like existence that our narrator experiences on the island.  It’s masterfully controlled and a testament to the strength of Raymond’s writing.

The setting is also beautifully realised and the hazy sunshine of Cyrus shines from every page. Lusciously written, Raymond provides the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that lure tourists to Ayia Napa every year, before peeling back the visage to reveal a hidden darkness lying underneath the glamorous parties and laid-back bars. The narrative also takes us back to the 1974 invasion of Cyprus, providing a fascinating glimpse of the derelict, abandoned spaces created by the establishment of the neutral zone in the wake of the conflict. The island really stars as a character in the book, providing a reality that our insecure, troubled narrator seems to lack at times. It’s an interesting contrast and, appropriately for a novel that so concerns itself with dreams and nightmares, adds to the dream-like quality to the narrative.

Given the accomplished setup and the numerous strands that Raymond weaves into a relatively slender novel, it was always going to be difficult to realise a fully rounded ending and, personally, I did find the final pages a little predictable and anti-climactic. That said, however, I don’t feel this is a novel that should be read simply to get to the end. Instead, it’s a journey that is designed to be savoured on each page. With a carefully crafted atmosphere, a deep sense of place, and a dark, foreboding overtone, The Golden Orphans combines shades of Graham Greene with the tension of Patricia Highsmith to provide a smart, taut literary thriller perfect that punches well above the weight that its slender format would suggest.

The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond is published by Parthian and is available now in paperback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, as well as to Emma from Damp Pebbles Blog Tours for inviting me onto the tour and organising everything! 

The Golden Orphans banner