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Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth

Lost? I'm fucking clueless.
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, or be generally and frustratingly unsatisfying. I love the idea (and keep buying them) but in the 15 minutes afforded me at lunch time to dive into a book (something at which I've become adept), it is endlessly discouraging to come back to a tale only for it to end, and be that irked that to start another in the time left to me is distasteful. I'm a sucker for the closed narrative loop - forgive the lack of correct discourse - with a starting point, a sense of impending dread as a crisis looms, the nadir of the crisis, the resolution and the happy ever after (as long as it doesn't drone on for pages and pages - eh Tolkien?). Kurt Vonnegut illustrates such narrative patterns very well in a You Tube clip I saw recently, linked here for your amusement. Short stories so rarely deliver. I read the door stop that is John Cheever's collected stories from beginning to end and died a little with every story. 


Anyway, on with the story, and Barth goes a bit further than is probably necessary with this collection of brain-bending post-modern complexity. Tales where the teller is possibly one of seven or eight characters (including one where a fictional authorial voice supposes the story he's writing contains a man who suspects his existence is due to the story the author is writing which contains... and so forth) and where at one point King Menelaus uses so many quotation marks to outline reported speech that one can't help feeling that time would be better spent writing down the value of Pi ad infinitum, serve only to prove what a genuinely clever fellow this Barth is and funny too, for genuine hilarity resides therein. For entertainments sake he does include what might be termed simpler narratives, based around a boy Ambrose and his unusual family, including one where he may or may not get stuck in a fun house - the text is ambiguous - but for the majority of the book, entertainment plays second or possibly even third fiddle (or doesn't play fiddle at all - instead uses Chinese pears to knock bottles onto glass chimes which shatter in a particular blah blah blah etc) to show just how fucking clever someone can be when he really puts his mind to it. Want more proof? It's possible that Barth uses the only instance of reported Martian speech in two consecutive stories, but doesn't even tell you about it! Heh? Heh? Oh, wait he does, in that incongruous end piece. I think this may just be a bit of a "fuck you" to those students who would inevitably look to outmanoeuvre their tutor in lectures or tutorials in a constant battle of wits, a pre-emptive strike against those cocky twats unavoidable in fee-paying universities.


Still, for all of that, I do feel a little weightier in the brain department for having persevered. I now know Helen of Troy was possibly made of clouds at some point, and that lots of Ancient Greeks were potentially pederasts or sodomites. Was that worth the effort? On reflection, etc ditto.

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A Death In The Family: My Struggle Volume 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I sit here, wearing my limited edition Knausgaard t-shirt, immensely grateful to the kind people at Vintage Books for their surprising gift of the first four novels (and aforementioned t-shirt) simply as a result of being able to post a comment on their YouTube Vlog. There may have been a hidden agenda, considering I'm a book blogger (What, interrobang, a book blogger, interrobang and so on...) but I prefer to believe they picked me at random. Because I'm ace. 
Nonetheless, I had no idea what to expect of these books. I did do a little reading, and found lots of very interesting articles about Karl Ove Knausgaard, including this entertaining one in the Wall Street Journal. But in all honesty, nothing prepared me for reading them, and I can see why they cause controversy and consternation wherever they are translated (which is pretty much everywhere).
First off, being intelligent and perspicacious readers as I trust you all to be, you will no doubt have spotted the whole Godwin&#…

A Bright Moon For Fools by Jasper Gibson

Ah, what would be a review penned by yours truly without some sort of grovelling apology at the outset? A better review no doubt, but that aside I can't help but continue the tiresome tradition with an apology. Sorry to my regular robotic readers (hi bots!) but I have been very neglectful of the blog of late, having been tied up with my pursuit of a broader spectrum of dilettantism; I've been taking part in a number of MOOCs offered by various HEIs on the FutureLearn platform. Worth checking out if you ask me.

(Subtle enough plug, you think?)
Anyway, the break afforded by a foray into further education has proved something of a test for Jasper Gibson and his fiction. In truth, it took me a little while to remember what exactly the novel was about, who was in it, and how I felt about the whole thing. Instant alarm bells. Of course, having had a break, I'd had a good crack at filling my head with a whole bunch of other things worth remembering, so maybe it all just got squeeze…

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*Shame Klaxon*
I am ashamed to admit it but I know next to nothing about Borges. I know the names of his books. I know he crops up almost without fail when conversations include literature from South America. I know his words book-end so many novels that I have that habitual proving-my-bold-assertion-mind-blankness which means my brain knows it to be true and won't humour your scepticism with an example*. And I know it's likely the biggest single lacuna in my entire reading history**.
So you may imagine my lack of surprise, on finishing this novel and reading the afterword by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, lecturer at Birkbeck College, London, and author of works on the history and politics of Latin America, that Borges pops up, within three lines of text. Three lines! He wastes no time does Oscar. Of course, my shame bristled and I was ready to adopt the usual casual hostility to something of which I was ignorant. But straight away, I understood what he was saying. I have often consid…

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I recall James Miller, specifically Lost Boys, from the dim and distant past. It may have been a commission for Waterstones Books Quarterly, or perhaps I was doing a solid for the Little, Brown sales rep. Regardless, I remember nothing about the book except being underwhelmed. From reading old reviews, it seems it had the coat-tails of the contemporaneous zeitgeist in its teeth, but one slightly savage Guardian review* points out it was pretty badly done. This might explain why I remember very little, perhaps proving Auden's assertion that, "some books are undeservedly forgotten; …