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Showing posts from April, 2011

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…

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

The first bad thing I might say about Engleby is that for some reason, it put me in a foul mood; as if by some sort of literary osmosis I had absorbed Michael Engleby’s uniformly critical point of view and had turned it on the world and my unsuspecting wife particularly. She was not a happy bunny. The first good thing I might say is that this didn’t last long, especially as the next book I picked up was a Charles Portis novel which quickly dispelled the gloom. Is this a triumph of the suspension of disbelief, of verisimilitude, of getting the reader to buy into the character? Or is it simply because the only point of view we get for 350 pages is that of “Toilet” Engleby himself? It’s hard not to warm to him even if you don’t like him or his fairly stiff opinions, and that must be a victory for Faulks. His protagonist protests that his memory is spotty – spotty enough that the major crisis in the novel is not really uncovered (officially – the twist was so obvious I guessed it from read…

The Invention of Dr Cake by Andrew Motion

Once again the fickle hand of fortune has placed before me a book I had absolutely no intention to read before I was safely pensioned and with nothing better to do. Having asked my wife to pick two random numbers I counted off those unread piles and plucked The Invention of Dr Cake from the mess with something akin to distaste.  It’s not the only work by Motion that I possess, but so far it has the unenviable status of being the only work by Motion I have read. However, as someone who has a history of ruining things via an unrelenting prejudice, liberally applied to everything of which I have an ignorant or ill-informed disgust and/ or hatred, I would like to take a step back and for once be objective. I hate people who aren’t objective in their reviews. Someone recently mentioned that in a former life, they had met erstwhile poet laureate Andrew Motion and found him a little stiff. Having had to pull him off stage at the Cheltenham Festival due to unnecessary waffling I might well hav…

Ravelstein by Saul Bellow


I sat down several times after finishing Ravelstein to attempt a review of sorts. In my lunch hour at work, I couldn’t resist the lure of CTRL+TAB to see if any interesting flotsam had washed up amid the tide of mediocrity in my Outlook in-box. The open-plan office, too, serves up many tasty distractions and diversions to upset the clean palate of concentrated thought. I think I got the title down on a blank Word document before remembering I’d not washed my cafetière and had only ten minutes left to eat a banana and make another coffee before my one thirty meeting.

At home, I grabbed an old but as yet unfulfilled notebook and a cheap pink biro with the imperative to “Use Your Vote” only to be frustrated by necessary tidying, dusting and vacuuming and, by then, the lateness of the hour and the requirement to get at least 4 hours of sleep in before my next working day.
I suspect were I to attempt to throw my hands up and declaim the pathos of my existence I would be firmly rebuked fro…