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There was a guy I saw buying Garbage Man by D'Lacey and I quizzed him about this book, D'Lacey's first. He said it was so good he bought another copy so he could leave it on a train and someone else might pick it up and read it too. I was intrigued, as this wasn't the kind of guy who looked like he usually bought Stephen King, or smelled like he bought Poppy Z. Brite. And yet it's with something of a sigh of annoyance that, having taken his recommendation and read through this, that I find it falls somewhere in between, where the lay person, usually disdainful of the genre, might be tempted to sully their hands with something gruesome and gory. I guess I expected the exceptional, and what I got was only pretty good. The premise, having been emblazoned across the front cover in true lowest common denominator style by schlock publishers Bloody Books, is that there's something rotten in small town wherever. The fact that small town wherever is in the centre of a post-apocalyptic wasteland is something that could have been explored a little more, but such is life, and on with the story! What's rotten is meat - the inhabitants are dependent on it, and in it lies the powers to control the populace. The twist, pretty clear almost from the outset, is that, as the cover tells us, "You are what you eat", and friendly neighbours are happily (perhaps obliviously, but certainly not all of them) chewing through cuts of the freshest homo-sapien. There is a further twist towards the end which I'll graciously acknowledge did sneak up on me, but all in all, the book relies heavily on butchery and debauchery for its shock value - why let cannibalism run free when you can add sex and they can have a party?Anyway, snobbery aside this is pretty decent for what it is. I did have to stop eating for a bit when he starts in on the slaughter at first, but as a product of a liberal upbringing there's little that has the power to upset my less than delicate sensibilities for long, and I was soon happily reading whilst munching a ham sandwich. D'Lacey is a little guilty of telling the reader how to feel in parts, but otherwise, not even slightly ludicrous gaps in the narrative were sufficient to derail his momentum, and the book does drive forwards with the inevitable velocity of a slaughter house conveyor belt. Not for the squeamish, but then having seen the cover, you pretty much know what comes next.

Within the body of work that Hrabal produced in the Moravian's life (ended tragically when he fell out of a fifth floor window whilst feeding some pigeons), Dancing Lessons... is more like one of the stories that Hrabal told whilst holding forth at his favourite watering hole, than his "hyper-realistic" novels like Closely Observed Trains. In style, it is one very very long sentence that surges forth like the source of an experiential river carving a valley through the life of a small town, through the eyes of its cobbler, a bawdy, burlesque character so typical of the "wise fools" with which Hrabal populated his novels. And in a sense, this choice of style could be its undoing. It's challenging to read, quickly mutating from its original theme like a stymied version of Joyce's stream of consciousness, or like a very drunk person digressing during a particularly involved history. In truth, there are several points where the sentence has actually ended but for the punctuation to signify such a stop. But this doesn't stop the novella from being a superbly entertaining and endearing piece of fiction, and a showcase for the talents of the man who in my opinion tops Kundera and Kapek as the Czech Republic's greatest author.

This one sat on my shelves for some time, being all orange and vulgar and putting me right off. But, as I was moving house and realised the extent to which my library consisted of books I may or may not read but are loathe to throw out, I came to the conclusion that chance would have to play its part in the selection of the next book I read, rather than good old fashioned logic. So, when I opened my eyes, dizzy from spinning, and saw my finger pointing to this giant orange tome I was a bit perturbed. Nonetheless, I am as stubborn as I am ridiculous, so onto the train it came, and stuck into it I got.What I found was nothing like what I expected. Okay, that's not strictly true. I expected a cop thriller with twists and turns set in a Disney-esque theme park, and that's exactly what it is. What surprised me was the totally accomplished voice, the effortless creation of suspense and the verisimilitude of the two LA cops, Lomax and Biggs (composites from a million TV shows, but still good solid cop type fellows). This is good stuff, and I must admit I read it pretty much straight through, with only minor detours into the daily duties of a retail manager, and a quick stop for lunch. Great value for the money, and a groovy way to spend a day becoming myopic.

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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Argh, Neil Gaiman blah blah, waffle waffle, and so on.
There, that’s out of the way.
I can’t help but equate the resurgence in popularity of the Norse mythos, Icelandic sagas, and Skaldic and Eddic poetry in all their new televisual, literal and figurative forms, to the similarly resurgent popularity of comic-book- and super-heroes. In fact, they’re two sides of the same interrogative coin: one asks, “How did we get here?” whereas the other asks, “Who can save us?” for the world needs heroes, and people to blame.
I will leave it up to you to project your own personal Them into the nice Them-shaped gap that leaves behind.
You may think it very necessary and timely to have brought out such a book. Alternatively, you may be suffering from hero-fatigue and see it as all a bit unnecessary. Or you may have been seduced by the big hammer on the cover and the lovely tactile matt-finish cover. In any case and in my own humble opinion, other than talk William Warder Norton into springing for a lov…

High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

I can hold nothing against or up to either Neil Gaiman or the late Terry Pratchett. In respect of their fans and their work, my problems are mine and mine alone. In general, both are of the highest standard. In context however, I can only judge Pratchett’s early work, such as TruckersThe Carpet People (currently reading to my four-and-nine-tenths year old who is loving it) and The Light Fantastic etc. (all of which I enjoyed as a very young teenager). Post-Carpe Jugulum I have read exactly diddly squat, and the stage plays and TV adaptations have passed me by without so much as a flicker of interest. Whereas Gaiman continues to intrigue, chipping away at my natural scepticism with his charm and wit and style and great children’s books, and I did enjoy Stardust the movie, for the most part because of Robert De Niro, and also in spite of Ricky Gervais. Of course, were they to collaborate on a novel (not De Niro and Gervais; that would be one to avoid), then I would expect the world to…

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

Before you start, read this disclaimer:
Fans of Neil Gaiman beware – I don’t tolerate you very well, despite counting myself amongst you. It’s nothing personal (about you – it’s very personal to me), and I believe it’s Neil’s own fault for being such a very good writer. Please read on through the fan-bashing to the bit about the book. Thank you.

Neil Gaiman is an annoyance to me. I really (REALLY) liked American Gods but found that as soon as I mentioned this fact to anyone, I got one of two responses: nose-turned-up snobbery of the most scornful sort, or sickeningly gushing über-fanaticism, if that isn’t tautological. I don’t know which is worse. The snobs I can dismiss as most will be operating within the conceit that Gaiman is fantasy and therefore unworthy of further study or consideration – they are very unlikely to have ready anything by the author. The fans, though, start dribbling on and on about the time they met him in Bath Waterstone’s or how much better he is than the Latin …