My cultural life: Tony Parsons

The #taken author reveals ‘the greatest novel ever written’, the Oasis song he's currently mastering and the Jennifer Lopez film that blew him away.

Tony Parsons

Tony Parsons has worn a lot of hats in his career, and found success in all of them: he began as a music writer, then worked as a journalist, a broadcaster and, finally, an author. The Londoner has published dozens of books, including his popular thriller series following a police detective, DC Max Wolfe.

The latest gripping instalment, #taken, sees Wolfe investigate a kidnapping that takes him deep into a seedy criminal underworld and exposes the roots of a crime that began decades ago.

To make its release in paperback this week, we asked Parsons to share the books, films and other culture he's been enjoying recently.

Art: Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper is my favourite painting. There is an incredible stillness about Nighthawks, and a melancholy, a hypnotic beauty that never seems to fade. Although it was painted in 1942, it captures something true of our time – the loneliness and isolation of modern life but also the romance, glamour and eternal mystery of the city. I saw Nighthawks 20 years at the Art Institute of Chicago, and I have never forgotten the experience. It’s huge. Sometimes you really need to experience a painting in real life to appreciate its power and magic. I dream of going back to Chicago one day, just to have another look at Nighthawks.

Film: Hustlers

I enjoyed Hustlers more than any film I’ve seen over the last year. The only thing that came close was Parasite. Hustlers is based on the true story of a gang of criminally-inclined pole dancers who, when their business collapses after the financial crash of 2008, take to drugging clients and maxing out their credit cards. I imagine that Hustlers was ignored at the Academy Awards because the subject matter ­– pole dancers – was too hot for Hollywood to handle in the current climate. It’s a shame, because Hustlers is funny, tender, and exciting, a brilliant story of female friendship. Constance Wu is good as the young, shy, novice stripper who just wants to earn enough money to take care of her old grandmother, while Jennifer Lopez, as the leader of the gang, is simply astonishing. J-Lo deserved the Best Actress Oscar for her performance here.

Photo: STX FIlms

Non-fiction: Autumn Light: Seasons of Fire and Farewells by Pico Iyer

Autumn Light is a glorious and moving love letter to Japan, a country that has been a big part of my life since I first met my wife Yuriko, who is from Yokohama, 30 years ago. Pico Iyer is a beautiful, insightful writer who knows Japan well – he has had a home and a partner in Nara, just outside of Kyoto, for the last twenty-odd years. Autumn Light is his most recent book, and captures Japan’s attitude to the constant change we see in nature, in our lives, and in the lives of those we love. The death of Iyer’s elderly Japanese father-in-law is a big part of Autumn Light, and as my wife’s dad died not long ago, the book struck a lot of chords with me. As a gaijin – and ‘outside person’, a foreigner – you can never really belong in Japan, but that won’t stop you loving that unique country.

Fiction: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Possibly the greatest novel ever written. Published in 1938, this is the most recent novel I read, and I wondered how I managed to get through my life without this classic. Rebecca is my favourite kind of book – the kind that does everything. It’s a love story, murder mystery, psychological thriller, rite of passage – Rebecca has the lot. I think any professional writer will feel a stab of envy when they read it. It’s got unforgettable characters, one of the greatest twists in all literature and an opening line – “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” – that has passed into collective consciousness. This is storytelling touched by genius.

Music: ‘Half the World Away’ by Oasis

I am an enthusiastic (if rubbish) amateur guitarist, and the music that I listen to tends to be the music I am currently trying to master on either my electric Fender Telecaster or my acoustic Martin. I play every day when my work is done, picking up either the electric or the acoustic, and currently I’m trying to learn this old classic by Oasis– that brash, laddish band at their most elegiac, thoughtful and wistful. It’s a beautiful, haunting song, but technically it’s not that difficult to play – my favourite kind. The real mystery is how such a song gets written, how Noel Gallagher conjured such a sense of longing and yearning out of such simple chords.

Photo: Getty Images

TV: Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs

I am a dog person. The first hour or two of every day of my life is spent with my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Stan, who walks me onto Hampstead Heath, whatever the season or the weather. Like most British people, I secretly prefer dogs to human beings, so ‘For the Love of Dogs’ is essential viewing, a wonderful 60 minutes about life inside Battersea Dogs Home. Paul O’Grady, a dog’s best friend, is the perfect host and always provides just the right balance of heart-warming dog stories, amusing dog stories and dog stories so sad they break your heart. 

Podcast: 5 Live Boxing with Costello & Bunce

Boxing is my sport – both my mum and my dad were huge boxing fans. When he was 17 and she was 16, my dad met my mum when one of her six brothers brought him home after they’d been training together at their boxing club. My earliest memories are of watching Muhammad Ali fights with my mum and dad. Ali was my hero when I was growing up, and meeting him in the ’80s, just when he was beginning his long battle with Parkinson’s, was one of the greatest moments of my life. Mike Costello and Steve Bunce are both brilliant journalists who have devoted a lifetime to boxing, and I never miss their weekly updates on the only sport that can never be described as a game. You play tennis, and you play football – but nobody plays boxing. I think that’s why I love it.

Theatre: Posh by Laura Wade

I saw Laura Wade’s play about a decadent, all-male dining club in Oxford when it was first produced at the Royal Court in 2010. Posh is a great play about privilege, misogyny, class and the British establishment’s hideous sense of entitlement. This year I saw a production of Posh at my daughter’s all-girl school, and it was a revelation to see this play about posh toxic males played by a group of 17- and 18-year-old sixth formers. It breathed a vivid new life into the play, and it was an unforgettable production. My daughter left school this summer, but seeing her perform – she played George, the rural toff who gets mugged when he tries to buy cocaine in the park – was for me one of the highlights of her school years, right up there with when she played the lead in a nativity play called ‘The Grumpy Sheep’ (a sheep who does not want to visit the baby Jesus) in primary school. Posh is my favourite play.


#taken by Tony Parsons is out now.


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