Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2011

Crushed Mexican Spiders by Tibor Fischer

Just who Fischer thinks he is, first attacking Martin Amis and then telling me, his earnest reviewer, that “...most books reviews aren't very well-written. They tend to be more about the reviewer than the book,” is an interesting question, and, frankly, one I don’t care much for. Me. I don’t care. I have other views too, which may or may not come out in the course of this review of a double-header by Fischer from the wonderful, wonderful people at Unbound. Okay, so I’m stuck in 2003, but then it was a nice place to be, with anticipation building at getting my hands on first a proof of Yellow Dog and then a pristine signed copy of Voyage To The End Of The Room. After 2003 it all felt a bit of a letdown, with the bathetic release of both to muted praise and fierce criticism.
Still, I must focus on pastures new and not on muddy old fields.
A quick word (you know what that means) about Unbound. The theory or model is that by securing an agreed level of support from the public, that is y…

The One from the Other by Philip Kerr

Philip Kerr is an author I have been reluctant to attempt to review for some time. His Berlin Noir trilogy cost me some hours of sleeplessness and in the end I decided to skip a review and just be happy to have read it and therefore move it from the pile of unread novels, via the edge of my desk where the “to review” pile occasionally falls over on to the typewriter and spills my pen pot across the floor and thus causes significant risks when stumbling blindly about the room at night too drunk to remember where my bed is or having just been jolted awake by the boy shrieking from the next room and running asleep into walls and doors, to the back half of my giant Ikea bookcase where novels that have been read and have caused my self-esteem to shatter on the diamond-hard edges of someone else’s talent currently reside, gathering dust and moisture until hitting the mildew tipping point and becoming physically dangerous in their own right. This awesome crew consists mainly of Will Self, Jo…

The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell

Straight off the bat, and perhaps therefore to sport my oak somewhat, I should mention that this review borrows heavily from an interview with Alden Bell (aka Joshua Gaylord) posted in August of 2010 at FantasyBookReview.com and, in all honesty, you may prefer just to go there and read it, rather than heroically struggle on through the desolate wasteland of this entry. Go on, I give you permission.
Still here? Then on with the story (to borrow from Barth).
There has been a glut of late* (or at least two I can think of without straining myself) of post-apocalyptic novels winning acclaim etc and so on - Rhys Thomas’s On The Third Day is worthy of a mention just because he’s a local (in the sense that he comes from round my way), and The Road is always worth squeezing into a blog entry as any mention of Cormac McCarthy guarantees a load of misdirected hits from America. Different from dystopian novels, but singing from the same hymn sheet, they maroon an identifiably contemporary characte…

Backlist - More stuff inappropriately appropriated

There is something intrinsically pleasing about Baker's work. Whilst this is not his best by a long way (for that you should pick up Box of Matches or The Fermata - pant-wettingly brilliant stuff), this transcript of a (CIA?) taped conversation between two friends in a Washington hotel room is something other, a novel that is social and political commentary, that is a stylistic adventure, that deviates from the norm without falling into the post-modern mosh pit of literature by the likes of John Barth or Mark Z. Danielewski. It's also damned funny. Until fairly recently I had no strong opinions on American politics, on the lust for scandal and the love of celebrity that saw the population elect, in the words of Jonathan Coulton "a sweating filthy liar" in Richard Nixon, and a slightly deranged cigarette spokesperson and cowboy in Ronald Regan. Of course, W changed all that, and Obama has helped somewhat, like a temporary salve on a wound that will only fester eventua…

Backlist - A load of stuff reproduced without the author's written consent

Being somewhat silly, I began my discovery of Jeff Lindsay by reading the fourth novel first (publisher freebie) and then watching the first episode of the TV series. As it transpires, that's the wrong way to do it. So, keen to make amends I picked up this three volume omnibus edition to motor through the first three books before I remembered what has happened to Sergeant Doakes, Dexter's arch nemesis (at least, his arch nemesis in the Miami PD) by book four.
The appeal lies not just in the pacing, the fact that our protagonist is a merciless killing machine, and that he's doing what most people have occasionally dreamed of doing - taking out the trash! - but in the oddly affecting and twisted humour of the novels. Whether he's ruminating on why his "dark passenger" guffaws at a particularly amateurish crime scene (amateurish from the point of view of the killer that is), or balancing the training and development requirements of his protégés (seriously) agains…

Backlist - Adolf in Wonderland by Carlton Mellick III

Such a concept as this may have been doomed from the start, destined never to have been fully and accurately realised. From personal experience, the stuff that resides in the head rarely survives the transition from thought to word – hence the struggle to successfully find backers for my Dirty Despot trading cards – and in Mellick’s story of the futility and indeed folly of the pursuit of perfection, the prose is clumsy and awkward, the ideas beautiful and disturbing but uncomfortably chopped and fitted rather than allowed to smear sticky fluids across the page as they might wish, and although it ends on the up, the general reaction may more likely be one of disappointment than euphoria (and vomiting). Supremely ironically, and acknowledged in the introduction, the twiddling and fiddling over 8 years between conception and publication, has deprived Mellick’s fable of its joie de vivre and left instead a somewhat mechanical novel, the joys of the flesh removed and replaced by something…

Wanting by Richard Flanagan

First encounter with Flanagan came via Gould’s Book of Fish in hardback, a victim of some aggressive pre-post Christmas price slashing back in twenty tickety boo (along with a first edition of Martel’s Life of Pi in hardback at 2 for £20), and with the beautiful colour plates so sadly missing from future flimsier incarnations. As much as I loved and coveted more of the same, it’s taken me nearly ten years to catch up on the backlist, and I still haven’t gotten to Death of a River Guide – there are just too many things that need doing.

 ‘Oh, woe is me!’ etc etc. Time-theft from work isn’t often available to be recycled as reading time when in full view of the open plan office. But I have managed to squirrel away a bit of reading elbow room in which to fully appreciate the latest offering from Tasmania’s answer to Thomas Bernhard.
At this point I should perhaps clarify such a throw-away remark as that just this second made, just there.  In no way does Richard Flanagan resemble Thomas Bern…

Metaliterature welcomes guests from the US of A

Hey friendly American types! I don't know what it is but you guys seem to be hitting my webpage pretty chuffin' hard - one third more hits come from the USA than from the UK, and honestly, I can't count more than four Yankee Doodles as friends (two of them are from America's Hat so shouldn't count anyway). It may be because I am hard-wired into reading classic and not-so-classic American fiction that my reviews pop up on your search engines, and if that gets in the way of your browsing I can only apologize. However, if you like what you read, and want more, let me know. I'm keen to have a little feedback from anyone who may read regularly, or just pops by occasionally, or stumbled across this by accident. I don't care who you are, what you do, or why you're here, but I do want you to go away with a positive impression of the place, and will take steps to make it a bit more user friendly. Tweet or message me @TheMightyBuch or you can just post comments u…

Scapegoat by Charlie Campbell

I have to be a little careful here for fear of treading on ground previously and better trodden upon by reviewers of deserved repute. By that I mean making it clear I've stolen the ideas of people paid to do this sort of thing and passing it off as my own. Francis WheenChristopher Bray and Frances Wilson have, in their own eminently imitable fashion, paid tribute to this entertaining Socratic examination of our tendency to offload guilt like an unwanted Christmas pullover on to the first likely charitable candidate, presented in a willowy thin volume of no little beauty. To this formidable array of talent I would be as an independent bookshop is to Amazon - of no concern, until I start stealing their copy for my own nefarious purposes. I know critics all meet up for gin slings and vol au vents at the Pigalle Club, so if one were to notice, then I'm certain all would quickly find out. And like Amazon crushing independent retailers, my fate would be sealed. In cement and dropp…

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

"Not all that crazy" was my rather insipid first impression of the previously imposing-looking Lethem. Quite what I had expected is now unclear, but there is an inkling of a memory of a semi-conscious association of the word fortress with the anticipation of a challenging read. Stupid me, I had completely missed the direct reference to Superman's arctic hideaway, and the pretty comprehensive blurb should have pointed out that in many respects this is a straight forward semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in Brooklyn. Straight forward except for the bits of Superman-esque flying, as well as invisibility, bestowed by the ring of a guy who lived on the roof tops of Brooklyn tenements and thought he could fly.
It's been a little while since I finished this, and perhaps that could explain why this review hasn't exactly exploded from the blocks. I recall wishing to drop what it was I was doing at any given point and go back to reading with a cup of tea or head …

Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth

Reading John Barth makes me feel a mixture of ignorance and pride - ignorance because many of the references, devices, tropes (and on and on) he uses are beyond my comprehension (or current reading level), and pride because I know which ones are which. In his appended introduction (not the one from 1966 where he blithely waffles on about listening to certain stories as recordings which don't actually exists per se) he talks about the need to get more John Barth on to the reading lists of creative writing courses across the great continent of North America. This was his attempt to add Barth to Borges, to get himself mentioned in the same breath as others who subvert the comfortable illusions of tale and teller. 


Hence the scratching of head and puffing of cheeks and regular stoppages of reading for a cup of tea or to see what the weather is like outside.


Most short stories take it out of me; all that emotional investment only to have it stop short of resolution, or to end abruptly, o…

The In-Betweeners

Not everything I read makes it onto the pages of this blog. Indeed, of some books it pains me to say I may well be slightly embarrassed to admit having read them, being slightly superior and a somewhat jaded critic of the popular milieu. However, what sort of chronicler of intertextual flow would I be if I were to omit those texts that fill the void between the titles carefully chosen by me to illustrate what an esoteric and highly educated reader I am? 
Therefore, I've chosen to humble myself by exposing those little items of brain candy that I occassionally treat myself to, behind closed doors of course. Those shavings of Occam's Razor I call, The In-Betweeners.


These little beauties all occurred at various points between Lethem and Barth, but considering that I haven't as yet gotten to either, and that my desk is slowly disappearing below miscellaneous unanswered correspondence, dust, and thoughtlessly discarded clothing I decided it was better to get them out of the way…

Eeeee Eee Eeee by Tao Lin

Having walked past Shoplifting from American Apparel (thanks to John Barth I've been reminded to italicize the names of complete works, among other things) for several months after it became a mainstay of the cult fiction display (hurrah for Bert!) of a local book chain, and dismissing it casually due to its self-confidently svelte appearance, I was finally convinced by a split-tongued straight-edger of the relative merits of Lin's oeuvre whilst he was chuckling his way through another, Richard Yates, and wondering aloud why Dakota Fanning wasn't being assaulted more often. At random, I poked blindly at the shelves around the letter L willing fate to procure a serendipitous gem and came up with a book the title of which I was unable to pronounce without some sort of context. That context is, less than quixotically, dolphins.
What Lin serves up as I was to find soon after is a tale of Karinthian (which is to say, Kafka-esque) absurdity populated by bears, moose, dolphins and…

Darker Than Amber by John D. McDonald *SPOILER ALERT!*

 
I was looking about the internet, bookless as I was at the time, for the line that opens this particular Travis McGee novel (#7 no less). For those who are interested, it starts "We were just about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge". However, I found the most entertaining review, positively apoplectic in it's febrile biliousness, posted on a random website which rather than make me blanche at the suggestions I enjoyed revelling in the debasement of women by proxy, made me want to tell everyone about it. Therefore, rather than come up with my own rather insipid review, I've nicked this one instead. Full credits go to Amanda, whoever she is, and if she should stumble across this wholesale theft, perhaps she'll get in touch and I can tell her how much fun I had reading it. Enjoy.

's review
Jul 15, 11
bookshelves: crap
Read from July 10 to 15, 2011

Holy shit snacks. I can't believe I read the whole thing.

F…

Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt

Unfortunately it's been that long since I've been motivated enough (or not distracted sufficiently) to attempt to deal with the once again steadily increasing backlog of paper currently causing my wife to slowly begin hating the sight of my face, that I've nearly forgotten just what it was I wanted to tell people about the late Tony Judt and his "thought-provoking polemic" (thanks Chris Patten c/o The Observer). I'm sure it was considered and erudite whilst lacking succinctness, as is most of the dribble currently blotting my online copy book.

Of course, temporal distance is not the only problem. For what Judt does in his collection of related essays (or is it one long essay? Damn those extra tequilas of my misbegotten youth and their brain-cell damaging fun) is basically moan about what's wrong in the world, harping on about developing a new discourse that allows Americans to join in the debate surrounding representative forms of governance and their imp…