The reality of true sado-masochism is not a bit of BDSM fun and games in the bedroom, it is the horrific brutality of violence and rape and the complex psychology of both victim and perpetrator.
Isabelle Huppert gives a searing but subtle performance in "Elle", controlled yet erotic. This is a film about unsatisfied desires and fantasies that actually get played out in the context of smart Parisienne bourgeoisie.  Huppert's character is the victim of horrific violent child abuse from her psychotic serial killer father and lives with the consequences. The interplay between her and her attacker is disturbingly ambiguous, subversive and transgressive. She has been there before.
Is this in any way a feminist film? The men are all weak or violent or both. She is a manipulative cool survivor who gets her revenge.

PS Not for the faint-hearted!


I am in Istanbul on a religious bank holiday and the tourist sites throng with Turks and Arabs. The women all have their heads covered, some in full niqab made more sinister still with designer sunglasses. I feel oppressed and alienated.

This modesty imposed for centuries by patriarchal societies, is to protect men from their sexual desires. Whatever the historical and cultural reasons this is absolutely unacceptable to me. Is showing your hair really so inflammatory? Why can't men take responsibility for their sexual desires?

There is no hope for female equality. Millions and millions of women throughout the Middle East, across half of Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan remain second class citizens, often aborted, killed at birth, uneducated, valueless and in some societies victims of gender apartheid.
Yet as mothers, as the givers of life, we should be honoured and respected.

How many of those Istanbul tourists were genitally mutilated? (Ironically recent…


I come through the long Lincoln Tunnel on the bus from Newark Airport and I find myself on 42nd Street in the heart of Manhattan. It's raining, cars are hooting, taxis are weaving,
crowds are hurrying, people are shouting, billboards are flashing, the air is buzzing, adrenalin is flowing and I am flung into it and inhaling it with the rain and loving it. My kind of big city, bring it on.

There is an uncertain kind of queue for taxis but nobody is doing much. Taxis hurtle up in any kind of order or rather disorder. Think like a New Yorker: I stand in the rain in the street my arm raised. I am spotted and throw myself into the iconic yellow cab before anyone in the queue can complain. All the taxis have video screens in the back with ads and loops of bland daytime chat shows. Fixed to the divided screen is a credit card swipe. The drivers are all silent and surly.

My destination is a narrow street in the Lower East Side, a bit like Shoreditch or Hackney, hipsters with beards in bla…


This week's poem is by Dorothea Smartt

(English Barbadian, born 1963)View this email in your browserShake my Futureshake my future push me past my complacency
my taken-for-granted my comfort zone
shake my future let me source the unimagined
be released from the sentence of the inevitable
take control, empower myself
past the dour predictions of the present
and change myself
shake my future challenge our ‘first world’
capitalist consumerist criminal zone
of perpetual purchasing
shake my future past the edges of the known
world launch me out into the hinterlands
of the intuited imagined
beyond the droughts of apathy
and quench my thirst for something different
shake my future with alternative endings
curdle the milk of human kindness beyond
the patronizing rattle of charity cans
to preserve the poor and assuage my guilt
shake my future with a kaleidoscope of tunes
play some other melody and bliss me out
of ignorance let my mind expand with a question
and seeking the answers shake my …


As "War and Peace" draws to a close on BBC TV I thoroughly recommend reading the book. Don't be put off by the length, the story just rips along. I first read it over a weekend when I was 24, stranded in Paris with no money. I re-read it a few years ago and enjoyed it even more. Not for nothing is it often named as the best novel ever written.

Then there is "Anna Karenina", much sadder but beautifully written, still an amazing read. Tolstoy also wrote wonderful short stories, many of which are quite humorous. He certainly had a good grasp of the many facets of human nature.

Dostoyevsky? Too scary? Try " The Idiot", a wonderful story and easy to read.

Chekhov was the master of the short story. "The lady and the little dog" is a masterpiece of the genre.

Turgenev wrote "Fathers and sons" a novel about that relationship.

Gogol's "Dead souls" despite the title, is comic and satirical.

These great Russians writers give us…


When you have a group of young men outnumbering the women you are in for trouble. And when you have hugely different cultural perceptions and expectations you are in for more trouble. Add alcohol and you have got a rampage. What to do? Education education education.
 In Western society women are equal and free, free to dress how they choose, free to go out and have fun, free to walk the streets in safety. What happens to men whose religion and culture only allow sex in marriage, when they live alongside liberated women? An explosion of testosterone, violence and assault at a time of celebration. Why should indigenous potential victims change their normal behaviour? How can we best help confused and alienated young men? Prison is not the answer but what would be an appropriate way to educate them without being patronising? As a group they may be threatening but as individuals each one has a personal and often sad history. They are not sex-crazed monsters.
So what are the long-term sol…


Eurostar had a special offer, £62 return to Paris, how could I resist. I bought shares in the Tunnel in the 80s for the principal, my dream made real. The first time I went through in 1994 I was so moved I cried.
Paris is my second home, I have been going there virtually every year since I was 7, I lived there for a year in 1969, my aunt lived there from the early 50s to her death in 2009. Je suis Parisienne.

On Wednesday 11 November we drove past the Arc de Triomphe after the Remembrance Day ceremony. The Tricolor was suspended in the arch, almost the full length, the biggest flag I have ever seen. Vive la France. We visited the Musee Orsay with its wonderful Impressionist and Post Impressionist paintings. Then we had tea with a friend who lives on a houseboat on the Seine at the foot of the Place de la Concorde, chic. Dinner at the Cafe Flore with Frederic Mitterrand who will help me with one of my book projects.

On Thursday 12 November I met a friend at the Grand Palais for the Pi…