Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Impossibly by Laird Hunt

What the hell is the green door?
The Percival Everett theme continues for the present. I'm so glad you're pleased to hear it! You may have read, buried deep in the bowels of another review, that I came across this book after searching the Kindle store for more by Everett. I shan't therefore bore you with a repeat, but will gently remind you that Everett provides the introduction to what is my own first taste of an author I could really get behind (in a William Shatner / Henry Rollins / Ben Folds musical production* sort-of sense). 

So what do we know about Laird Hunt (or @LairdHunt as the Twitterati would have it)? Answer - not much (that is not cribbed directly from his Wiki entry or his own website). It seems he used to work for the UN in a press-related capacity, occasionally contributes to McSweeney's (where did I read that? I can find no proof that this is true so if you prefer you may disregard) and has been a translator of things into languages other than that in which they were written. An essay he wrote appeared in The New York Times (opinion pages). He is also published by a rather marvellous little publisher called Coffee House Press whose list is quite interesting. Do you feel better informed?

Don't pull that face. I can see you.

The story starts with a stapler. This is clear. However, the story doesn't start with a stapler. Equivocal, eh? What I mean is that the narrative picks up at the point where the narrator, an ambiguous, confused, slowly disintegrating chap, also a spy, meets a girl in a stationery shop where she is struggling to remember the name of the item that turns out to be a stapler, but this point is already some way into the back story of the narrator, a story which is layered like a palimpsest, or rather more haphazardly like the chalky, lumpy brown tooth enamel caused by chronological dental hypoplasia**, but far less solid. Something has happened, and our spy is disavowed by his agency. He is reactivated though after "rehabilitation" only for that to also end badly. Someone is dead who probably shouldn't be, but is also alive when they couldn't be, and his girl and new (or old) love interest seems to have run away only to return with no apparent memory of him. Or not. Plus, his best friend is possibly trying to kill him as he may or may not be an enemy agent or colleague with instructions for his termination. It sounds confusing and it can be. Hunt has been accused of writing experimental fiction. His prose is definitely unusual and he makes excellent use of a completely unreliable narrator to playfully disrupt the familiar linear narrative to great effect. Time is a fluid and also ambiguous construct, and the reader is swept around the smorgasbord of the action never really knowing what taste the next passage will leave in the mouth. Mostly it's brilliant, funny, playful stuff. Sometimes, it's not entirely understandable and occasionally just plain silly. However, there is a ratcheting of tension as paranoia builds, a sense of dread and desperation as the narrator flees for his life, or tries to work out from the clues just what it is that he's missing. He never stops struggling to put the pieces together, but in the end, there is the tired resignation that he's getting older, and the life expectancy of a spy is not traditionally all that lengthy. I say in the end but actually it appears somewhere in the middle, before it all kicks off again and he becomes young. Or old. 

Now traditionally at this stage of a review you'd get some sort of conclusion, a summing up if you will of the thoughts and impressions of the reviewer. I will give it a try, for tradition's sake, but it'll be challenging. Overall, I enjoyed the book with its randomness, fractured narratives, disjointed and imperfect, blanketed with some delightful language and downright funniness. I was more confused by the Green Door appended to the end, a lost or edited-out chapter restored to the text. I say more confused but I mean differently confused, less enjoyably so. I can't begin to deconstruct what this or anything within the novel means or wishes to say, but I did identify an underlying theme - repeated blows to the head can cause memory loss. It might be a challenging read for some, but Laird Hunt could just be someone who merits your attention. The chaps at PEN/Faulkner and Anisfield-Wolf certainly think so.



* I can't promise that this is the only William Shatner song that will appear in these pages. I CAN promise it's the only one that appears in this post.

** No. I'm not a dentist. However, my son does have hypoplasia on three molars. 

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. 

A man who likes horses
and fishing...
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 reading process active rather than passive. Or something. I'll find the quote and post a link to it when I get five minutes. Everett does that too (only with less monsters). Here we see a man who can fix anything, even the human body, hounded out of town and standing on the bridge - what next? A wrangler must transport a horse back home at twilight but it's afraid of the dark and all he's got is a torch - what to do? A man escapes a mental hospital but sits on a porch across the street to watch the police and ambulances roll up - why? An old man moves a car that is blocking his dumpsters only to be pursued by the police and shot by his friend the pharmacist. Does he die? Damned if I know, but that's the essential tug and twist of short stories, when masterfully crafted. 

A man I have more time for than sense, Kurt Vonnegut, writes the same way - everything drives the narrative forward, and there's always a twist. In the introduction to Look At The Birdie, Sidney Offit relates a time Vonnegut reviewed the life of a departed friend: "No children. No books. Few friends. She seemed to know what she was doing." That is achingly brilliant, brief Hemingway-esque life in four sentences micro fiction. Everett uses a few more words but lives and their stories are as emphatically created, nearly always with a protagonist of whom I have severe writer's envy - someone with firm convictions, strong morals and strength enough to maintain them both. Plus, in most cases, something about horses and fly-fishing.

If you're a fan of Everett, then you don't need convincing, except it might be worth noting that this is more Cutting Lisa than Glyph but then when writing is as good as this, it doesn't really matter if you're a baby with an IQ near 200 or buying up real estate to stop the developers. If you're not, you should be.

A History of the African-American People (proposed) by Strom Thurmond: As Told to Percival Everett & James Kincaid

I was very pleased to have remembered a fact about Senator Thurmond, probably gleaned from an NBC or CBS TV show such as the West Wing or The Good Wife, that set me in good stead for this rather entertaining if random "novel", if one wishes to call it such. In fact, although it might be fiction in form**  it could be read as a eviscerating if glib critique of academia, publishing, right-wing historical revisionism, senatorial aides and humans in general. But I was telling you about my fact, yes. Here it is:

He died as he lived, standing on his head...*
At 24 hours and 18 minutes, Strom Thurmond holds the record for the longest filibuster by a single senator in US history.

A filibuster (first made popular*** by Cato the Younger in the Roman Senate), for those that care, is where a vote on a proposition, in a parliament or senate, is delayed or entirely obstructed by a member talking non-stop about anything he chooses. In this case, Senator Thurmond unsuccessfully attempted to block the Civil Rights Act of 1957. What a gaseous old windbag, but what stamina!

During the course of this book, I was entertained by several other new facts about Senator Thurmond I learned courtesy of Messieurs Everett and Kincaid;
a) He was a redneck
b) He was a lecherous redneck
c) He was a prehistoric, lecherous redneck
To be fair, that's pretty much all you might need to know in order to enjoy this book on an historical level. I admit, my American Political History could be brushed-up somewhat but this lacuna did not prevent understanding or amusement. In fact, having been in search of more eBooks by Everett as a result of discovering The Impossibly by Laird Hunt and Everett's contribution thereto and finding only this and one other I'd already read, I was willing to take a chance on anything I found. This had the least probable or promising title I had ever read, I'm sure you might agree. Allied to another fact in so far as I knew nothing about James Kincaid whatsoever, I was really out on a limb before I even started.

Am I digressing? Let me just state this - I knew Everett was black. I knew he was from South Carolina. I didn't know, however, that he once refused to continue a lecture at South Carolina State House because of the presence of the Confederate flag. I am learning so many new things!

So, what we have here, to return to the issue at hand, is a highly unlikely book. Of course, post-modern irony spotters will have got the joke quite some time ago. And that is pretty much what this book is - one long running joke, about the fact that Senator Strom Thurmond, outspoken critic of civil rights and racial equality, might wish to write a book about the history of the African-American people. Equally unlikely is the fact that the bulk of correspondence is made up of letters - actual letters - from the pens of the various crack-pot letter-writing cast - including both Everett and Kincaid, at times Strom Thurmond, a senatorial aide, named Barton Wilkes, with delusions of grandeur and chief protagonist (or antagonist) , a slightly crazed editor at Simon & Schuster and his unfortunate assistant, the assistant's sister, and a rival editor who enjoys using violence to conclude arguments. It does lead me to wonder how long the epistolary form might survive in modern times, even more so that it's on my eBook reader, but then I only have to look at Texts From Dog to curtail that avenue of inquiry. Still, as is often the case, humour disguises a keen disgust and critical insight, quite in keeping with Everett's oeuvre. Somewhat like a dried up scone used as a vehicle for cream and jam consumption. 

And what liberal use of toppings the authors make! 

Enough filibustering - please read this book. You need not even leave the house as you can download the thing and read it on your [INSERT EREADER DEVICE BRAND NAME HERE]. It's funny, sarcastic, acutely observed satire, and also has several (I hesitate to use the word, but can find no alternative) love interests to maintain the human perspective and challenge concepts of rational behaviour. There are people out there for whom this was a missed opportunity for national recognition but whether it deserved the National Book Prize or not, it IS long overdue a wider audience. I flatter myself by thinking I might be the means to deliver this...

* Not true - he died in bed aged 100 - but try telling Everett and Kincaid that.
** In truth, it would be more accurate to call this a fictional epistle
*** I doubt it was popular among the Roman senators, whose business, by Senate rules, was to be completed by dusk or else abandoned. Cato could talk the heat out of a fire.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin



This machine kills Fascists too.
I wondered for a few years about reading this book. Had it not been free to download I may still be wondering. I've read all of Jules Verne and lots of H.G Wells (mostly pre-1900s stuff), and whilst their sci-fi output is, almost without fail, worthy of great praise, they bore the arse off me with their high Victorian style. Although this was written and published in the 1920s*, I was expecting a faithful rendering of Well's yawn-inspiring verbosity. Thankfully, florid subjectivist descriptions of colour aside, he does manage to produce what is a thoroughly readable dystopian novel.

An Old Bolshevik, Zamyatin, we're told, was deeply disturbed by the naughty goings on of Soviets post-1918. In retrospect he had good reason given the amount of Bolshies who died in mysterious circumstances or were shipped off to the Urals or Siberian Gulags by the even naughtier Stalinists. In fact, he himself was exiled twice, before successfully petitioning Stalin to allow him to voluntarily exile himself in 1931 - the alternative was not worth thinking about. Quite why he kept returning to the Soviet Union is another matter. 

Enough potted history! We, one may assume, came about because Zamyatin was also a dissident, wary of the police state, of censorship, authoritarianism and autocracy. On his return to Russian soil in 1917 he edited translated novels by H.G. Wells amongst others and if Kurt Vonnegut is to be believed, continued a noble tradition of ripping off the work of his predecessor, taken up by both Aldous Huxley and Vonnegut himself**. Indeed, it appears to share many similarities with Wells' dystopian visions. Orwell and Huxley clearly owe a great debt of gratitude to Zamyatin's gentle theft. As does Ayn Rand, but the less said of that the better.

What we have here is a far-future where the autocratic Well-Doer of the one United State rules life inside a glass walled citadel, where residents are happy because they are not free. Life is set to the minute, sex snuck in behind curtains, the drawing of which requires a permit (and lasts only 20 minutes). D-503, mathematician and begrudging poet, builder of the great civilizing space rocket Integral, takes the reader on a bumpy ride through the city during a particularly hairy time for all concerned, where a dissident group called Mephi (for Mephistopheles) plans to upset the balance and throw off the yoke of an organised happiness by stealing and smashing said rocket into the city. D-503 is drawn into the plot by the beguiling and mysterious I-330 (it's always the way, dick leads brain) much to the chagrin of rotund O-90, his registered partner. Push comes to shove and the state orders the lobotomization of the entire populace in order to remove irreverent and distracting fancy, catalyst for the desire for freedom and thus chaos and doom.

Not a lot else to read into that really, is there? Certainly, one could spot Jungian archetypal theories, European Expressionism, an attack on scientific socialism, and so forth, but in essence, we have a thrilling if obvious (from a modern reading perspective) cautionary tale, not least because *SPOLIER - LOOK AWAY NOW* D-503 finishes his narrative as a happily lobotomized citizen with only a vague curiosity as to his previous flighty behaviour, as evidenced in the pages before him that he wrote in the grip of so-called fancy. 

As an occasional sci-fi fan, I am very glad I got to read this, not least because it lead me to rediscover the Vonnegut interview below. It's always good to know your roots, and Zamyatin is clearly embedded deep in the genre; his influence continues despite many people having never heard of him. Hopefully, you might now know who he is and feel the need to share it.


After being the first book banned, in 1921, by the Soviet Censorship bureau, it didn't see the light of the cold, Russian day until 1988; Zamyatin snuck it past the censors in Prague from whence it trickled back into Russia to great furor and the eventual exile of the author to Paris, where he died of a heart attack, and, as is the way with authors in Paris, destitute. And probably drunk.

** I am delighted to have found a scanned copy of the 1973 Playboy interview in which Vonnegut says, of Player Piano, that he, "cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin's We." And here it is.



Monday, 10 June 2013

A revelation of sorts

"Hold still, now, aaaaaand... Zap!"
Today, in writing a review of the completely brilliant Breece D'J Pancake's only published collection of stories, I had a minor revelation. Not only am I getting older, with less hair and so it would seem less brain matter (the punishment for youthful excess - and occasional middle-aged excess), but I am also accruing excuses, reasons why not today but maybe tomorrow. I can't look for a new job, I'm too tired to play football, I'll just have that last biscuit and work it off tomorrow, I'll write when I have something to write about. 

The last one has been bothering me for a while. I am not one of those compulsive writers that must write or expire from the pent up frustration. I am not one of those seized by genius and with a desire to show the world something new and amazing. I am one of those who writes because he is a little lonesome, a little bored, and is lacking in self-belief and needs the affirmation of strangers. Yeah, that cock. 

But what, I pondered, if I could let all of that go, and simply tell a story? 
What story? I countered. 
Shut the hell up, me.

What if I did just forget about me and write freed of fear that I would be met with ridicule? That would surely be liberating. What if, instead of simply writing regardless of the fear, I actively embraced it? Writing in full view of the public? Will Self did it (or at least I believe he did, writing onto an acetate slide projected on the wall of an art gallery - I thought the Tate but can't seem to find the evidence). How could that not be an excellent challenge to take on? How to facilitate this?

The answer, as you will have guessed, is always in front of you. 

@WorkingTitled is my new project which you can follow over on the right there, or on my Live Journal account, where every entry is being logged. Writing in 140 character bursts, live and on the web, to anyone who will listen, completely open and honest. No deletions, no back-tracking on my promise to myself, no bullshit. Damn it but this is terrifying. 



So there you have it. No other activity will cease to make way, I will just be writing, 140 characters of new novel, hopefully every day, or at least as often as possible. They say when you've hit around 6000 tweets you already sufficient words for a novella. Let's see if it's true.

The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake

"Bo hung his head and waited
for the roof to fall."
I must say that, having bought this book in a moment of lunacy a few years back, when, secured for stock at my former place of work by a seriously lovely and well-informed geeky book-type pseudo-named Bert, I took an illogical shine to the author's name, I was perturbed by the strong, almost hyperbolic, recommendations adorning the cover, with comparisons to Hemingway, and not one but two - count 'em, two! - bookends from some heavyweight literary chappies. This was nothing like that which I expected of someone whose middle initials were liaised bizarrely* and whose surname made me think of maple syrup. I was probably reading Charles Portis or something equally surreal at the time, and was in the mood for more. Hence, Breece has survived the move (I was still hoping for silliness) but had been gathering dust (it's short stories after all).

Talk about astonishing**! I was astonished. 

There are two main reasons for this. One, I'd just rediscovered I Ain't Marching Anymore, a collection of folksy protest songs by Phil Ochs - video at the end - on my iPod, whose West Virginian roots I unearthed as a result of James Alan McPherson's introduction, along with Pancake's infatuation with him. Quelle co├»ncidence! 

Two, it's freaking awesome stuff. 

Dark, disturbing, ultimately human, Pancake's depiction of the West Virginia of his youth allows no sentimentality, but never condemns. His characters are uniformly lost, ultimately stranded in their own lives with only violence and longing as constant companions. A boy's only friend is a woman the town pillories as a whore; a woman loses her unborn child whilst secretly coveting her lost brother; a sailor rapes a runaway teenager because he doesn't know what else to do with her. Pancake doesn't play to the adoration of the crowd, only writing what he must, his characters taking centre stage and not his writing, which nonetheless almost fizzes and bubbles from his pen. It is a tragedy that he didn't live to write more, or that more of his work hasn't been collected and published posthumously. He has made me consider the way I write, being myself what I would probably decry as a clever clever writer, instead of a writer like Pancake who is clever because he doesn't feel the need to hog the limelight, letting his prose do the work. As one who we're told studiously re-wrote to get just the right phrase, le mot just, the right sound to his writing, I'm not surprised it reads so damned well and is quite so movingly brilliant. 

I am truly moved, no joke.

So if you want to read something that is excellent in as many different meanings as you can think of, you can read one of these pretty damned amazing stories, The Honored Dead, over at BiblioKlept, where they "run short stories, poems, essays, and excerpts by various authors (mostly in the public domain, but sometimes not)." Not that I condone that sort of thing, but at least you can get a taste of some pretty great writers. For free.

Otherwise, trip on over to The Book Depository and buy a copy. Hell, buy several and leave 'em on trains. I'm planning to do just that.

Now, go check out some Phil Ochs.




* A result of a typo by his first publishers, who instead of using a period, used an apostrophe, something which caught Pancake's fancy and which he decided to adopt officially.

** Regulars at the metaliterary feast table might expect sarcasm, but I'm pleased to say that his is said with all due respect to the author and his work.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by W.H. Davies

It's not often I get to wax hyperbolic about something with an intrinsic worthwhile-ness to it, especially something Welsh. Having under the belt the standard issue years of Welsh Education, comprising vague threats of crippling yearning for home were I ever to leave the country (called for the uninitiated hiraeth), language lessons-by-rote with no attempt by the teacher to instill anything close to understanding, and stealthy practising until I could repeat Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch with sufficient prowess to impress... someone I have yet to meet, the value others, keen to keep our national "brand" alive and if not neck-and-neck with the success of the Irish, at least on the same strip of cinder, placed on Welshness has soured for me the pleasure of simply being from Wales.

However, the fine chaps at Parthian Books, along with some sterling  fellows at The Welsh Books Council, have done something of which I can say makes me proud to be linked, even by the chance serendipity of birth, to the land which produced poet, wanderer and super tramp, W.H. Davies. This endeavour is called the Library of Wales. I'll let you visit the website to find out more, but I can assure you that it is worth your while. But the point of all this introductory spiel is that they have re-published, in this instance in e-book form, the autobiography of the aforementioned vagrant. And I've gone and read it!

You may be familiar, thanks to a TV campaign of some considerable inanity for so-called adventure holidays in the UK, with some of Davies' poetry, although you will probably not know it. Take a look at this:



Not quite as entertaining and the PoetryReincarnations version that I had embedded but rights free if nothing else. 

George Bernard Shaw, in his introduction to Davies' 1908 work, highlights his apparent lack of formal versification, praising the honest craftsmanship of the stanzas, giving the lie to those whose verse stiffens with structure and proper form. He certainly lays out his page plainly and without artifice. Shaw also points out the fact that he himself only stumbled upon Davies' work because the chancer had sent him a bound book of poems with a request that he either send him half a crown or return the book! So before Davies gets the opportunity to introduce himself as one born in a Newport public house, we already know him to be of artistic verisimilitude and modest but enthusiastic about his talents. 

If one were to read Shaw's words as truth, the text that follows could be considered as a straightforward account of a life on the lam (from drudgery, despair and responsibility), but I, being me, could not help but feel that either Shaw's analysis was at fault, or he was deliberate in his mild sarcasm. Davies' tales of tramping through America are entertaining, enlightening and certainly plausible, up to a point, but there is always something of a caricature painter at work, with fully realised stereotypes of drifters, gridlers, grinders and hawkers on every page, complete down to their rather forlornly ridiculous sobriquets - Slim, Tall, Irish, Oklahoma... And that each tramp knows most others in a country the size of America stretches credulity. 

"I was born thirty-five years ago,
in a public house..."
Nonetheless, cynicism to one side Davies sets out what is a thoroughly engrossing romp through the economic hinterland of turn of the century America, where he makes plans, saves money, travels vast distances, spends everything, drinks copiously, succumbs to fits of literary ambition (wherein he sends out his poems and manuscripts, writes letters to beg support and is generally thwarted by the Charitable Society, from whom little charity is ever received), even making it to Canada where he meets some of the most wonderful people he has ever encountered, primarily because he has just lost a foot trying to hop a train. These parts of his story are truly evocative of the hobo life, romance and realism trading blows on every line. But there is always, at the back of my mind, a worry at his reluctance to dwell on his experience of home. When he does make it back to South Wales, he says that he decides not to visit but instead cracks on to Swansea before turning back, and only to draw out his private income that has been building up in his absence. Little mention is made of family other than his grandfather at the outset, and a bemusing passage about his mother and her prescience. Maybe worry is too strong - perhaps it is just stymied curiosity. As Shaw says, if there were more of this to read, I would read it! 

Davies' life story is a Woody Guthrie song, an American classic of the down-and-outs, however predating Guthrie and later contemporaries including Orwell, and sowing the seed of the romantic life of the hobo, marrying danger and delight in simple terms. It is also about the triumph of the will, the modesty of a man just doing what he feels he must in writing of his experiences and pushing them into publication. He bandies about a few throw-away lines about his proof readers writing his poems for him, but this self-deprecation hides nothing, and the man is revealed. If I had no proof other than that everything he says about life riding the rails is repeated in books, films and TV right through the remainder of the 20th century and into this one, then I might say that Davies is the inspiration to a whole literary and cinematic tradition. And best of all, it is immensely readable.

A sincere thank you goes to Parthian and the Welsh Books Council for bringing such literature of note to the attention of the wider public, and saving unduly forgotten books like The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp from the dusty shelf of collective amnesia. I am delighted I've had the chance to read this book, and even if it has not inspired me to read W.H. Davies' poetry (which is, truth to tell, a bit pastoral and static for this boyo) it has certainly reconciled me to the often hidden beauty at the heart of this country.

Monday, 3 June 2013

A Fucked Up Life In Books by Anonymous

 Download BookCunt's
autobiography
Perhaps this decline in ethical fortitude was inevitable; succumbing first to e-pub books on my new corporate-approved, bookshop-workforce-eviscerating Kindle, and then reviewing free (or near free) books published by people what I have done met on that there Twitter.

So much for principles, eh?

Take this book, called, accurately if somewhat tastelessly, A Fucked Up Life In Books; I’ve been mooching around book blogs for someone to recommend something great to read* for a number of years and have had my eye on this particular one, full of lip-chewing vulgarity and salt-of-the-earth honesty (if it is to be believed) for a time as a welcome resource of refreshing invective for those days where poncing about feigning airs and graces makes the sick rise up into my mouth. I found her on social media, and have quietly enjoyed her time line and blogging style for a few months. Then through complete accident** I found BookCunt had written a book, published by an old Waterstonesian colleague Scott Pack and his The Friday Project crew – serendipitous destiny without question. 

Taking the Metaliterature creed to mean I can read things I find cruising the Internet when I’m bored, I immediately downloaded her book, told her all about it and entered into a foul-mouthed exchange with her so that she and her legions of admirers would know what a cultured and also uncouth chap I really am.

Exhibit A - gratuitous self-promotion


What happened to high brow? Where are the literary giants like Eco, and, er, um, ahem, the others?  Truth be told, contrary to my opening paragraph about the decline in standards, I’ve just realised that I don’t half read a load of old tosh. In the pantheon of great literary achievement, I suspect that John D. MacDonald and Marshall Karp weren’t even the people who washed the grapes before they were peeled for the Bacchanalia.

So much for a narrative conceit, eh?

“I can’t be fucking arsed with your blog shit” a good friend once said to me, “because you say fuck all about books and just go on and on about yourself. I get enough of that when you’re drunk as a bastard.” I like to remember this when I get two pages into a review and have yet to mention the book.

So much for a review, eh?

Back to “Anonymous” and her rather entertaining and revelatory review columns. In truth, books play almost no part in her story, other than to provide a chapter heading and give us all an insight into how well-read (or otherwise – book snobs get short thrift and often, so maybe you chaps give this one a miss, yeah?) she is. That she actively seeks time to squirrel herself away and read is rather endearing, and evokes nostalgia for my idealised youth (veracity notwithstanding) where I would often have my head in an Ed McBain or Stephen Donaldson whilst eating, watching TV or in the toilet. That books preface some horrifying tales of parental neglect and emotional abuse is slightly unpleasant for me as a bibliophile, but even the most flippant and facetious arse will appreciate the emotional attachments, the ghosts of memory that haunt the pages of some of our favourite or even least favourite books. But equal to the horror are the moments of balance, wherein her father features prominently, and her brother also (if we politely disregard the time she bounced his head off a brick wall), where beautiful people make life that little bit more tolerable. In fact, one such beautiful person looked to be aiming at a sun setting over the horizon happily-ever-after until, in what was to me the most wrenching trauma, he fucks off and makes it all smell rotten again. That is, of course, until she finds The Big Green Bookshop

I am a notorious if inadvertent MCP when it comes to books I choose to read, preferring the rants of male psychotics to any others (famous felines such as the Tomcat Murr notwithstanding), but I would probably burn someone’s bra (is that still a thing?) to get everyone to give this book a chance to impress. She’s not just about swearing and rage (although there’s lots of that in there) and her honesty is dazzling. Being cribbed from blog posts, I’d read quite a bit previously, so was probably ahead of the game, but when collected into a pseudo-narrative and competently proof-read****, it forms a genuinely readable, persuasively emotional chronicle of the life of someone who just wants to find a comfy chair, a good book, and, I infer, someone who quietly and patiently attends on her for tea & fags and provides a sympathetic  ear-hole into which she can rant. In fact, in retrospect, I can still clearly recollect several key moments where I completely ignored my wife’s pleas for help with the boy / screams of pain and carried on reading regardless, such was the spell I was under.

So much for being a cold-blooded sacred-cow slayer, eh?

To finish – the conclusion / sales pitch. If you want a book to read that has lots of swearing, especially by a “lady” then this is for you. If you want a book about books, no matter how tenuous the link may be, this is for you. If you want A Child Called It-style misery memoir to make yourself feel better about your shitty little life, this is for you. And lastly, if you want genuine, honest, hilarious stories about modern life, then I cannot praise BookCunt highly enough. And it’s only fucking £2.99*****! Bargain!


*   For “someone to recommend…” please infer “plotting intellectual theft”
**   Whilst “accidentally” reading*** Caroline Smailes’ own book-type blog
***   Please refer to note *
****   Competently, but not professionally – there were quite a few errors that slipped the net – but these are The Friday Project’s problem, not the authors’
*****   Price may be subject to change because Amazon are bastards.