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Showing posts from 2015

Glass Soup by Jonathan Carroll

On the face of things, it might be easy to write-off Jonathan Carroll as a facile fantasist, someone who uses vaguely oblique references and metaphors for the whole meaning of life and love, and is overly obsessed with battles of good and evil and the grey areas in between. God knows, when I first read The Land Of Laughs I was confused as to why it merited a place in the Fantasy Masterworks series of books, and was left feeling distinctly bamboozled and empty afterwards. But there is a positive insidiousness about the writing, a depth betrayed by its apparent shallowness, and despite being annoyed at myself for seemingly confusing obviousness and profundity in the book, I went out and bought a load of other books by the same author, and have been steadily working my way through them for the best part of fifteen years. I still have a couple more to go. 

What does that tell you about Carroll? That he has a gift for reminding us of the ubiquitousness of the human experience? That he tells…

A Man In Love: My Struggle Volume 2 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

First off, Merry Christmas everyone, and also, here's wishing you all a very happy new year. Let's all hope that 2016 is the year that we all learn just what it is we want and how to get it.
To the task and book at hand, and I am trying desperately to space out my intake of Knausgaard, despite my usual trick of buying everything he's written as soon as I've read half of one book. I am an author-glutton, it's undeniable, but defensible in this instance as, after all, Knausgaard's work is compulsive reading, and very much like life itself it has episodes of great intensity dotted with moments of total self-immersion, acute scrutiny of the minutiae of existence, and rambling discourses on the nature of everything from emasculated fathers to whether madness is desirable in the literary arts. But I have one great reservation about this project, to which I'll come shortly. 
Book two follows on from one, picking up on the new, exciting relationship with Linda Borstr…

The Empty Copper Sea by John D. MacDonald

I fear the bored among you, those who clicked the wrong link or were betrayed by your search engine into clicking on to what is basically a giant advert for a real-life Evil Corp. but with added sarcasm and poorly framed* literary endeavour, will not stand for any preening or keening about the high regard in which I hold MacDonald as a gifted storyteller but the low regard in which I hold him for his insistence that masculinity, no matter how progressive the thought behind the action, is basically just about physical effort–at work, at play, in perilous situations and in the king-sized bed aboard TheBusted Flush, McGee's 53 foot house boat, which he won in a poker game along with the owner's girlfriend and who he ditched at the first opportunity. For Travis McGee does pretty much bed all the attractive women he meets, unless they are actually spitting acid or filleting children. For that sort of exuberance, you can go visit my reviews for A Tan And Sandy Silence, The Long Lave…

The 42b: Dark Journeys In Cardiff

Firstly, I would like to take a moment to congratulate the people behind We Are Cardiff for taking the brave first step into the publishing world, a process initiated, so Hana Johnson said at the launch in November, because no-one else was as invested in the outcome as they felt it merited. I was able to briefly attend the gathering at Porter's (another good place in a city of good places in which to relax with people who don't want to stab you) before my non-alcohol-alleviated social anxiety took hold and I ran out into the fireworks. It seems I've not met anyone new in twenty years without some level of intoxication being involved, so this was a new and terrifying experience. From a distance, everyone seemed very lovely and a good time was had by all. 
Secondly, I would love to know what was the initial creative brief of this collection of twelve related short stories. What emerged, fetchingly packaged in high contrast black and silver and punctuated by designs from at le…

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&#…

The Wrestling by Simon Garfield

I have a vague memory, nestling in there with various tableaux of my grandfather asleep in front of the cricket, the hardened red marbling of raspberry ripple ice-cream, and an insatiable childhood desire for the game Tank Command*, of grey-blue images on the television of fat men in leotards. This was 'The Wrestling', as both my maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather would tell me, and was another television programme that my parents frowned upon but had no power to stop me from watching. Which I didn't. Before the 24-hour news cycle and WWE Superstars, I was only ever interested in cartoons, and later football and Star Trek: The Next Generation. 'The Wrestling' was something weird and quaint and discomforting to watch, so I didn't. 

Turns out that many other people didn't watch it either, and in 1988 it was binned from ITV's World of Sport programme for good. 

However, it seems I've been at best callously indifferent and at worst wilfully dis…

Love And Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon

"When he was young, like me, he said, he used to think that all the great writers knew something he didn't... He was burning to write, he wanted to break through to that fancy knowledge, he was hungry for it. But now he knew that that hunger was vainglorious; now he knew that writers knew nothing, really; most of them were just faking it. He knew nothing. There was nothing to know, nothing on the other side." – The Noble Truth of SufferingYou know me and short stories–I shan't revisit old graves–but every now and again I find a collection, usually with one author, that simply blows me away. Something in them speaks to personae I didn't even know I hid behind. Something rips free the mask, the fiercely clutched identity, fake as you like, and exposes everything. Those authors I fall madly in love with, because I hate them. I detest that they can say things that are as yet unformed zygotes in the barren womb of my mind, not even the germ of a clumsy, badly phrased …

The Axeman's Jazz by Ray Celestin

To lead with an apology would be traditional, but I make no excuse for having better things to do than tell you all how much I enjoyed this novel. I've been gorging on televisual box sets including but not limited to Bones, Defiance, Hannibal, and Breaking Bad, a series I had promised not to watch until the furore had died down. 

Whilst that has nothing to do whatsoever with this novel, other than to have driven from my brain all thoughts of plot, structure, narrative and writerly panache, I can't simply dive in to a review now can I?

Based on a real-life unsolved murder spree from 1918-19, and not the first novel to bear this title, this historical detective story revolves around a pariah cop who turned state's evidence against his partner, who in turn gets out of prison to resume working for the New Orleans Mafia just as his ex-colleague is being offered up as scapegoat in the continuing failure to catch or stop the serial killer running around chopping up Italian greengro…

The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster

Grudgingly, I have included the definite article to the title of this post. My 2005 uncorrected proof copy, sublime in its pure off-whiteness with embossed gilt lettering omitted the 'The' and, in my opinion, better suited the content. For whilst it is a chronicle of folly, specifically those of Nathan Glass, his nephew Tom Wood, neice Aurora, and the neighbouring denizens of Brooklyn, New York, I suspect there are many more that escape un-chronicled. 

But first, the usual detritus of contextualisation. Having tucked away D. B. C. Pierre's Lights Out in Wonderland, itself a story of outrageous folly, pinioned throughout by the protagonist-narrator's desire to commit suicide, the opening line of this book, always a winner when penned by Auster, struck me as contiguous:
I was looking for a quiet place to die.I was to discover quicklythat he had no plans to hasten his own end, but the connection was established. Narrator Nathan is a divorcé, survivor of cancer, and a man is…

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…

Lights Out In Wonderland by D.B.C. Pierre

I will admit two things: 
1) I have never willingly paid for a novel by DBC Pierre – the Booker winning Vernon God Little I received as an uncorrected proof (ditto the second, Ludmila's Broken English) from a sales rep trying desperately to generate interest in what he was concerned was a massive waste of an advance (how wrong he was); 
2) I haven't got a shiny clue what either of Pierre's first two novels are about, despite having read them both. Damning? Possibly. Equally likely it's some sort of degenerative disease of the brain.

This was the very last uncorrected proof copy I ever made off with from my life as a bookseller (that I still own that is), and in large part this was due to the fact that it had (and still has) a shiny embossed belly band which nicely obscures the title and author on an otherwise drab trade-format paperback. It also helped me overlook it for the best part of five years. There I go, judging books by covers again. So, for posterity, or to remin…

I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett

I found Percival Everett through a typical, but at the time exciting, bookselling ploy of massively discounting select titles, in this instance to 99p, to add units and value to transactions at the till point. Thus Erasure was the first Everett novel I read. His smouldering anger and furious hilarity stuck me instantly, and although I can claim no kinship or even shared social or cultural experience, I decided I had found someone with whom I felt somewhat aligned. In typical gluttonous fashion I quickly picked up a shit-load of his other work, including two I've reviewed here: A History Of The African American People... and Damned If I DoI loved the Will Self-esque humour of 4-year-old Ralph in Glyph, the anger of Ralph Ellison added to the parodying of the publishing industry in Erasure, and the absurdity of Ted Street, headless and suicidal, in American Desert. It was something I realised I longed for in contemporary American fiction; a writer with clarity, using humour to unp…

True Grit by Charles Portis

In my current mood of nostalgia for things and books past, I thought I'd return to a Charles Portis novel I read quite a few years back, one recently* 'rebooted' by the Coen brothers for cinematic audiences. The story, related by an octogenarian Mattie Ross, heroine of sorts of her own story, is of a 14-year-old Mattie hunting and attempting to bring to justice the murderer of her father, Frank Ross, with the help of dyspeptic, drunken and (middle-) ageing civil war criminal turned Federal Marshall Reuben J. 'Rooster' Cogburn. In a humourlessly delivered monologue, which is nonetheless very funny in and of itself, Mattie tells of her trials at the hands of horse dealers, lawmen, Rooster and the bandits and brigands to whom she wishes to bring the iron hand of justice. She also captures all the wry pragmatism of Rooster himself, and the slick bluster of Texan law man LaBoeuf (pronounced La Beef) who is in pursuit of her personal nemesis after he killed a senator bec…

Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore

A number of years back, I believe (but cannot prove) that I read this book out of the Milford Haven library. I then found it in a second hand store in hardback whilst at university and read it again. Now, after an instance of maudlin self-pity, combined with wine (much wine) I ended up purchasing it again from a second-hand book store on line, along with Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett, an act which I forgot until one day on return from work I realised I couldn't open my front door because something was jammed underneath it, a something which turned out to be these very books. What a lovely surprise, although I immediately checked my browser history and bank account to check I'd not purchased a fold-up bicycle or second-hand city car on my credit card, both items which I've been pondering in the last few weeks. It turns out I hadn't.

So, to prevent further rambling, the point is that this might have the distinction of being the first book that I b…

The 210th Day by Sōseki Natsume

Many (many) years ago I came across I Am A Cat by Sōseki Netsuke (a bookseller's nightmare considering the occidental trend to westernise Japanese names and thus oft-times finding itself in both N and S on the shelves) in a manner I can no longer remember, and was instantly smitten by its insouciance and wit. I went about flogging it to every vacillating browser I could assault in a typical fit of smittenness. In fact, you can find a link to it just below this review, down there. Click on it. It's a great book and is cheaper if you choose to purchase it on Kindle. Take a look. Just down there. You'll love it, I promise. Go on. Ahh go on. Go on, go on go on etc.

So anyway, I also went about hoovering up all the English translations of his work I could find, as is my particular peccadillo, and to stare lovingly at them as I promised, but failed, to actually read any of them. Worryingly, when recently prompted to revisit the shelves by more Eastern wonderfulness, I realised th…