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Books of Note

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Not surprisingly, like a lot of John Darnielle’s music, particularly those songs on the album The Sunset Tree (Pale Green Things springs to mind and is very much worth listening to), his writing only slowly reveals itself and its narrative direction. Not in any turgid or tedious fashion, but rather in an unhurried, gentler and more thoughtful way. Universal Harvester rolls gently along its path with only a few disconcerting and probably deliberate hiccups. It starts in Iowa in the 1990s with a young man, still living at home with his father but unable to leave because of the weight of his mother’s death, years before, in a car crash. The trauma tethers Jeremy and his father together like the gravitational pull of a dead star in a comfortable and predictable but numb orbit, but it’s never something that either of them can discuss openly.
Jeremy works at a VHS rental store, so we’re assuredly early-Worldwide Web era. His job is simple, repetitive, and keeps him and his father in entertai…
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The Perfect Fool by Stewart Lee

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Horse Destroys The Universe by Cyriak Harris

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders

The Red Men by Matthew De Abaitua

The Dinner by Herman Koch

To cut a long story short(ish), I’d left Will Self at home by mistake (or rather, because it’s a hardback and my pannier bags were stuffed with other work-related detritus) and was struggling to overcome the temptation to simply watch crap television on the iPad during my lunch break, when I remembered I could access my Kindle library through the app. So, I went through the library to the earliest downloaded novel (ignoring yet again the interminably long list of out-of-copyright, free-to-download ‘classics’ I’d grabbed the second I got my e-reader and may never, ever look at again) and opened her up.
Thankfully, somehow, my brain has redacted in its entirety the truly awful film version of this novel. No, no, please don’t even tap it into Google or Bing or whatever. It’s a total shit fest. How low Richard Gere has fallen…. And he dragged Steve Coogan down with him too. There was every chance that, had I remembered watching its fully majestic calamity, I would have deleted the e-book …

Umbrella by Will Self

I’m a big fan of Will Self and his titanium folding bike. Through him I’ve become a fan of Matthew De Abaitua, his one-time amanuensis; Russell Hoban; fan and novelist Sam Mills, and there are probably more authors I’ve found and loved because of his scholarly erudition.
However, James Joyce ain’t ever going to be one.
Which is odd if you consider my track record of loving modern and post-modern authors who creatively re-frame a traditional narrative.
Unfortunately, for me at least, if not for the swathes of blown-away reviewers and columnists who lavished praise and called for its inclusion on the Booker list in 2012, I quickly came to realise both the significance of the title and of the opening epigraph: “A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella.” (James Joyce, Ulysses)
It’s a 397-page-long paragraph.
Whilst that doesn’t explain the umbrella, of which more later, Umbrella is written with a significant nod to the modernist (sorry, Modernist) stylings of Joyce and T.S. Eliot. Self…

Think Like An Anthropologist by Matthew Engelke

Cinnamon Skin by John D MacDonald

How To Rule The World by Tibor Fischer

Tatterdemalion by Sylvia V. Linsteadt

Tatterdemalion is anything but ragged and unkempt. Dispassionately speaking, one could wax lyrical over its superlative production; it looks, feels and smells gorgeous. Unbound have made another beautiful book.
However (you knew it was coming)…
… Passionately, or whatever the antonym of dispassionate might be (biased?), I’m not much enamoured with the design or the paintings.
The story goes that author and certified animal tracker Sylvia Lindsteadt wrote these interconnected post-apocalyptic fables in reaction to the paintings of Rima Staines. To my eye, the paintings/prints are crude, evocative of an anachronistic style (which is likely the point), and trouble me with their impressionistic perspective, and cut-aways to show children growing inside wheeled elephants / trees / fish and so on.
I am absolutely not saying they are bad paintings. They capture the spirit of that which they inspire, which is a very good thing. They are objectively both pretty and bizarre, which would normally li…