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The Locktender's House by Steven Sherrill

When she felt brave enough, strong
enough, she'd name the mountain too.
Having now read three novels by Steven Sherrill, I'm beginning to suspect that he hit his zenith with The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break and it's all been a gentle wavy curve downwards thereafter. I don't recall much about Visits from the Drowned Girl other than I was disappointed, and sadly, I feel the same way about this one. 

It's basically another ghost story, one wherein the protagonist is haunted by her past in a generally tactile fashion. However, maybe she dreams, maybe she's remembering, or maybe she's remembering dreaming, or vice versa, and so on. Janice Witherspoon wakes up with a migraine to receive a call telling her that her boyfriend, the other half of a relationship of convenience and inertia, has been killed during his tour in the Middle East, and so she goes on the run from her life, winding up in a lock-keeper's house in Pennsylvania, miles, she thinks, from civilisation, a place to which she feels deep down in her bones she has some kind of connection. Cue disorientating dream/memory sequences, crows, goats, tiny bone armchairs and sleepwalking. Then she finds her closest neighbour is a handsome, recluse, stone-carving, older, naked-yoga-performing professor who is immeasurably kind and supportive up to the point where he thinks she's gone crazy when a ghost tries to drown her in the bathtub and she subsequently tries to rape him. 

When put like that it sounds like an entertaining read. At the end of the day it is what it is, and from reading the blurb and judging the content from the form, it's no more than what I expected, but as I say, I was gently disappointed that it wasn't something new and exciting from this tired old genre. He takes regular pot-shots at the military, there's paragraphs about banjoes and dulcimers, of interest to someone who can't play either but pretends he can; there are some passages of marked beauty, some sentences that are worth re-reading, but at the close of play, it's all pretty formulaic and predictable, and frankly it takes chuffing ages to get to the point. Day follows crushingly repetitive day. Janice wanders too and fro telling us she'll leave and deciding to stay. And she spends far too many nights in the shed having rough sex with a dead nursemaid. Plus, everyone dies including a crow and a dog. I found myself huffing and sighing in discomfiting boredom throughout.

In conclusion, I'm not sorry I read it, but I am sorry I was disappointed, and to be honest, it might be third-novel syndrome. However I shan't be shying away from novel four, Joy, PA,  which anyone with access to my Amazon Wishlist (ignore the mass-market movies...) might like to purchase for me (just saying). Anyway, just how do you follow on from a character like M? Oh, that's right, by writing another one...

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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…

UnAmerican Activities by James Miller

I don't think I was asked to honour the old convention that a freebie necessitates an honest if gently favourable review (at least I can find no written proof). I will however, name-check the generous (and possibly over-optimistic) @TheWorkshyFop, editorial director of the independent British publisher, Dodo Ink, from whose proof boxes of new November lead titles this one arrived. Thank you, sir!
I recall James Miller, specifically Lost Boys, from the dim and distant past. It may have been a commission for Waterstones Books Quarterly, or perhaps I was doing a solid for the Little, Brown sales rep. Regardless, I remember nothing about the book except being underwhelmed. From reading old reviews, it seems it had the coat-tails of the contemporaneous zeitgeist in its teeth, but one slightly savage Guardian review* points out it was pretty badly done. This might explain why I remember very little, perhaps proving Auden's assertion that, "some books are undeservedly forgotten; …