What is "Metaliterature"? It is literature about literature, in this case, views, reviews, and thoughts provoked by stuff I've read. I'm hoping this might be a chronicle of the brain of a life-long reader as guided by intertextual coincidence. If you like what you read, read what I like.
Currently domiciled in the Vale of Glamorgan.
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Conversations With Spirits by E.O. Higgins
Trelawney, it's me, Kath(erine)y, I'm still dead.
As has become customary in reviews of note, I must once again lead with a disclaimer – this one born of my own stunted temporal sensitivity; for me, time in publishing terms stopped when I left the book trade, in 2011, and therefore when I make reference to things published recently, recently might encompass more time that one might reasonably expect. Therefore, when I say that recently there has been a mini-spate of publications wherein someone challenges Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to flaunt his misguided beliefs in the face of scientific inquiry, you might be surprised to know that this includes Hjortsberg’s diverting crime novel Nevermore, first published in 1995, as well as the whimsical Oscar Wilde mysteries by Giles Brandreth, Arthur & George by Julian Barnes, one of the Flashman novels from George MacDonald Fraser, and lots of lower level self-published drivel flotsamming about the waters of the Amazon.com.
Sadly for Mr Higgins, my favourite Sir Arthur is definitely Hjortsberg’s, who is rather bemusingly and inexplicably haunted by the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe (Poe in turn believes himself to be the recipient of visits from the beyond from Doyle). Nonetheless, Higgins’ spiritualist Doyle is a worthy adversary for the rather superior yet curmudgeonly Trelawney Hart, semi-permanent resident of the reading room of the Hyperborea Club and firm materialist stroke cynic stroke dipsomaniac. Indeed, it is Doyle’s intervention which sets Hart on his quest to disprove the talents of mystic J. P. Beasant and leads to his discovery of some of the rummest drinking establishments that Kent has to offer. Doyle is equally curmudgeonly, possessed of the utmost self-belief and convinced that there are supernormal forces at work in the world. With sycophantic Woody in tow, Doyle cuts a somewhat ridiculous figure, fittingly so for this comic caper. And of course, a pompous old fool with firm beliefs is just the sort of windmill our quixotic anti-hero cannot pass up un-tilted. Hart borrows some duds and strikes out for Broadstairs, Kent!
To round up with a nice, clean, trite conclusion would be to do Mr Higgins an injustice. For whilst the story is clean, pleasing, amusing and rather well written, there are many little things which add value to the experience, not the least of them being that this is another Unbound gem and as such comes in a luscious first edition format that rather shames my poor, beloved paperback collection. Others include the names of various vintage cigarettes, like Sheiks, Dragoumis and Ogden’s Guinea Golds, all of which make an appearance in the first few pages and which conjure images of smiling health professionals extolling the virtues of toasted tobacco for the throat and of their power to keep you slim.
Now, to counterbalance my runaway enthusiasm for the book, and to pre-empt accusations of fawning flattery for the purposes of further vicarious glory, the resolution to the mystery is somewhat expected, even from the outset. Is that a flaw in the story? Not necessarily, but even allowing room for the suspension of disbelief, I was unable to seriously entertain the thought that Hart would be defeated. This might be due to the aforementioned literary encounters with a fictitious Sir Arthur as, to my knowledge, he rarely, if ever, triumphs* in his quest to prove that faeries and spirits exist. This might also be due to the rather flaccid attempts by Doyle’s present incarnation to convince a reader otherwise. It might also be because I’m a massive arse when it comes to spiritualist mumbo-jumbo. Also, the ending is a bit Poirot-esque where I expect, precisely because Hart consults a Sherlock Holmes mystery for guidance, it should have been Sherlockian. And Hart’s reluctant guide, Billy, does feel a little superfluous in places, perhaps like he was in life, and seems to serve only as a drinking associate for Hart, and someone to provide Doyle with further blockades to be breached by Hart’s intellectual siege engines when Hart himself is too unwell to witness the spectacle himself. Still, why gripe when for the most part what we have is immensely enjoyable?
Lastly, an equally predictable and unrepentantly blatant plug for Unbound again. If you want to engage with what you read, then get in on the ground floor and support struggling writers, like Ed Higgins, whose work was discovered, as I understand it, on Jottify and for whom literary fame was a candle glimpsed through a dirty window from across a foggy moor until someone pressed alcohol into his hand and convinced him to chance his arm.
*Injudicious over-use of commas was inserted deliberately to gently remind Mr Higgins of their beauty and import and to damn minimalist editors to hell.
I always try to travel light, a goal, something with which those among you with bookish leanings will empathise, that is challenging for someone intending to do as much reading as they can whilst ignoring as much culture and scenery as is possible. So huzzah and indeed hurrah for the generic e-book reader and its market competitors. Ten years ago I would likely have suffered a paroxysm of disgust for any apologist of the hated technology. Now, it seems, I must take one everywhere I go for more than one night.
The trip to which I am coming, an August sojourn by ferry to Santander and then by VW through Calabria, the Basque country, and north through Aquitaine, Poitou-Charente, Pays de la Loire and Bretagne, was a chance to get some serious reading under the belt. Twelve days of driving, drinking, books and beaches. The only 'real' books that made the trip were The Vagabond's Breakfast, of which more anon, and All The Days And Nights which, as I was on a deadline, I quickly …
So, wheel of fortune, count to 29, pin the tail, freebies off of peeps on Twitter etc. etc. Whatever the methods sometimes employed to pick the next book in my intertextual experience, the one that brought me to Jordi Coca brought me to a whopping great slice of nostalgia. Before I'd even opened it, it brought to mind Richard Gwyn, himself a published poet, author, biographer, translator and course director of the MA Creative Writing course at Cardiff University, who I recall for some odd reason gently encouraging me to read this novel, and by whose own work I was quietly impressed at the time. He was also an advocate of Roberto Bolaño, another writer in whose work I can immerse myself but from which I emerge drained, as mentioned previously. Before that, though, there is this sticker on the front, declaring 'Signed by the Author at Waterstone's'. It is indeed signed by Jordi Coca, not adding any particular intrinsic value to the book, not for me anyway, but more impor…
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…
I was sold this book by Simon at the Big Green Bookshop in return for the money it cost plus a small donation towards operating costs and postage.
In truth, I'd forgotten it was on its way, and it was a fucking lovely surprise when it arrived at my desk in work, my letterbox at the time being a tad short on width and breadth and unlikely to admit a hardback plus packaging. I recall very much enjoying reading Michael Marshall Smith, and I also enjoyed re-reading him, recently, and I documented this here, here and here. This was a book for which I hadn't realised I'd been waiting for a long time.
However, had I not the history and warm, cosy feelings safely tucked up in the nostalgia bank, I would probably not have picked this up, going solely on the cover. There's a clock, the silhouette of a small girl, and leaves, along with a colour contrast and meandering font which brought to mind something cringe-worthily reminiscent of Alexander McCall-Smith*, or the covers of Sc…