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The Bloodstone Papers by Glen Duncan

Chutney Mary amongst friends?

I can confirm that I have now completely caught up on Glen Duncan’s backlist and can happily begin reading the werewolf trilogy (starting with The Last Werewolf) when time and tide allows – that’s the waxing and waning tide of my habitually meandering attention. The Bloodstone Papers is now safely under the belt and committed to the somewhat over capacity bookshelves in the lounge. 

I often feel that to talk about a favourite writer’s writing (albeit metaliterally, if such an adjective exists) is somewhat disingenuous, that it cannot always do justice to the effort, intelligence and craft of an author. I may have used this somewhere before, but I vividly recall reading a quote attributed to Dylan Thomas but which I can no longer find and therefore verify, where he likens the putting onto paper of an idea to the catching of a large and terrible fish, which once landed following Herculean effort must necessarily end up lifeless. This tends to encapsulate the anxiety I feel when I consider reviewing a book by an author for whom I have the utmost respect and awe, a category reserved for writers such as Glen Duncan. Reviews of these works must necessarily lack the adequacy to truthfully represent what the author and book itself could mean, and from experience, end up being rather fitfully relevant or overly obsequious. How is this pertinent? Let me explain.

The Bloodstone Papers is a book which I had shunned on the assumption that I didn't care about colonial history, this being the presumed context of the novel from what I read on its rather attractive cover. Despite it being ‘A Duncan’, I really didn't want to read it if it was going to be a disappointment because of the subject matter. Having begun to read despite my objections, and having found that instead it entwined two timelines, that of “real-time” London-based son/author/teacher/Anglo-Indian Owen Monroe and 1940s India-based parents/Anglo-Indians Ross and Katie Monroe to create a passionate and beguiling narrative with a bloodstone ring at its fulcrum and very little real history to cloud the issue, I was beset by the predictable anxiety of reviewing something of which I was absolutely enamoured.

What a self-important chump – you might say – get on with the good stuff!

It began, I felt, and sorry for the weak simile, a bit like a new and improved version of an earlier work, Hope, with a narrator beset by his own demons, self-awareness a lifestyle he chooses rather than an awakening in the truer sense and therefore only a glossy veneer instead of a deep foundation – something Pasha Ross Monroe touches on towards the end in conversation with gay house mate (of son Owen) Vince – and all sorts of hints at darkness – the ubiquitous Scarlet / Hope figure – in the background. Quickly ushered in is the central premise of the book, a collation of the life stories of his parents into capital-T-The capital-B-Book, a publication more likely destined for the shredder than the bookshelves and vying for attention with a much more often visited dossier on capital-T-The capital-L-Lost capital-L-Love (my capitals, not his) and we’re back to Scarlet again. There are eddying sub plots, twists of moral reticence and rectitude, garnished heavily but appropriately with Duncan’s sad yet joyful wisdom, apposite remarks on time and life and middle class guilt and pretty much everything else. And as always, Duncan has so much time for love and sex that one wonders where the space was for all of the other amazing stuff he manages to smuggle between covers. On reflection, post-read, it left the indelible impression of a book about loss – of meaning, of identity or cultural purpose* and as always, ends near to where it begins, in this case with our narrator considering the start, middle and ending of The Book.

*The condition Stefan Zweig laments in his autobiography Die Welt von Gestern (The World of Yesterday) – namely of being in his case European but essentially stateless and therefore lacking a sense of cultural self. Of course, Zweig went on to kill himself and his wife in their last-visited refuge of Petrópolis, Brazil, whereas I can’t honestly see Duncan following suit, no matter how strong his personal beliefs. And I'm sure Duncan would choose something more exciting than barbiturates to do it too.


How's about that then?

Damned If I Do by Percival Everett

Where I should be recovering from a particularly nasty stomach bug, rather I appear to be on a Percival Everett trip today - first Strom, now Damned - but he really is that good. Good as in read-everything-he's-written-now good. Good as in I'm writing this on my iPad never more than two meters from the nearest toilet good. That's good. 

Damned If I Do is short stories, yes. That I have a curious relationship with short fiction is undisputed, but there are some like Breece D'J Pancake and Haruki Murakami that just have to be read, objections or no. Thankfully, it appears Everett has inherited some of their ability to write convincing, understated and ultimately addictive snippets of prose. And snippets they are. Somewhere I read once a quote from China Mielville where he says he just loves it when writers don't show the reader the monster in its entirety, that leaving something of the horror to the imagination of his audience adds a level of engagement and makes the …

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…

Open Door by Iosi Havilio

*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…