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Hannah Green And Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith

One of the great things about
being me, the Devil said, is I don't 
have to do anything at all.
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 Scarlett Thomas novels I avoided for purely aesthetic reasons for a number of years before overcoming the prejudice. I completely missed the snake. In themselves, these symbols signified something which brought about an atavistic aversion. I'm not sure if this is a trend in publishing design, but I trust it will pass.

Regardless, I was happy to overlook my own ridiculous peccadillo and crack on. 

It's classic EmEmEss. There's an unreliable narrator, there's a strange and unpredictable narrative, there are outlandish and yet perfectly acceptable plot devices and characters, and there are twists aplenty. There's also a strange avuncular feeling about the narration, something of which I was dimly aware until I read in another review that it was a little like a bed-time story. This is due in no small part because it appears to be told by Hannah's nomadic grandfather, whose own part in the grander tale (and his unlikely and particularly un-mundane history) is only revealed as a result of Hannah leaving her depressed and divorced father to stay with him. In essence, it's about the stories we tell ourselves, and each other, the purity of our blank white futures tainted by our subjective and corrupted inks, to borrow unrepentantly a Twitter bio. Hannah thinks her life is dull and monotonous, its only deviation the confusing separation of her parents and her slow alienation from them as they each dealt (poorly) with the situation. However, she soon meets a four-foot-tall talking mushroom and has a grand adventure alongside the Archfiend himself, all the while in pursuit of those spectral figures looking to subvert the profane machine her grandfather built–wait! what?–two hundred years ago!

I must say that in terms of dark humour, the likes of which graced his other more sci-fi novels, particularly with the talking appliances and wry, often bitter commentary, here it is more akin to some of the slapstick of Christopher Moore's Practical Demonkeeping. Not a bad thing you should understand, just different. It's a great introduction to a very good writer indeed, and will inspire you to pick up his backlist. Just don't hold your breath waiting for the next one, eh?

*Yeah, I know it probably looks like no Alexander McCall-Smith cover EVER but it evokes the same curdled biliousness as the sight of his Scotland Street novels on the shelf. No idea why.


How's about that then?

The Headmaster's Wife by T. C. Greene

I bought this on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I respect if not always agree with, and also as it was an Amazon daily deal I felt that 99p or whatever it cost was not too much to risk. I have become a little narrow in the field of what I choose to read and welcomed the digression offered. Subsequently, I feel a little hoodwinked. 
T.C. Greene’s previous book, Mirror Lake is one of those books that, as a former bookseller, I knew was there, would expect it to be propping up the centre of a table of multi-buy contemporary fiction, but had absolutely no desire to read whatsoever. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I disagree, given the time and effort spent by designers and publishers to ensure that any given book looks as similar as possible to the best-seller in any given genre. Mirror Lake enjoyed my ignorant prejudice for a good many months for this very reason. Of course, until I’d bought The Headmaster’s Wife I had no idea that the two Greenes were o…

Metaliterature - what meaning to have is this for meaning?

Not a review this time, more of a curiosity. It seems I'm receiving lots of hits from Russia (Здравствуйте России!) from people searching for the definition of "metaliterature". As such, it is something of a bespoke word, created to fit a need and probably not yet recognized outside literary theory / criticism circles (Merriam-Webster Online certainly don't like it). I was wondering what they typed in to end up here, so, for fun (it's not fun, sorry) I thought I'd bung it in Google Translate and see what came out. As it turns out, one needs a little hyphen for the rather ponderous machine to understand it, and even then only does half the job (meta seems to be meta in any language). 
Incidentally, below is, ironically, a Google Chrome Thesaurus definition* of "meta":

met·a Adjective/ˈmetə/
(of a creative work) Referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referentialInterestingly (not interesting, sorry) it says this for the full term, t…

And The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

Someone told me this novel, now nearly thirty years old (holy crap), Nick Cave's first and, possibly, his best, began life as a screenplay when he was still touring with The Birthday Present. That seems equally plausible and implausible. It is a wildly cinematic novel, narrated in flashback by the hermetic mute boy Euchrid Eucrow, who slithered into the world as one of a pair of damaged twins, the only one who survives the neglect of their first day on earth, and is vividly, viscerally visual. But it's also complicated, wildly imaginative, and at heart, finds a safer and more permanent berth in the gently revered world of literature than in the ever-changing and perfidious zeitgeist of cinema.

The story goes that Euchrid, after throwing himself into a bog into which he slowly sinks as he narrates his tale (to whom? and how?), was born, mute and unloved, into a truly Southern Gothic existence, mother a moonshine drunk, father a mean, bitter animal trapper, his community a severe…

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

Often, intertextual inertia must give way to old promises and the making good thereof. In the case of Chester Himes, who I’d rescued from the clearance bin in Waterstone’s Cardiff before the summer, the paying of deserved respect was long overdue. I have a very soft spot for genre fiction, particularly when the content is framed quite so elegantly as that of Chester Himes’ Harlem cycle. Apologists justifiably present him as the Black American literary complement to white contemporaries and genre luminaries Chandler and Hammett, and from a personal perspective, his marriage of svelte prose and acute observation is as pleasing on the eye as anything from either author or other renowned pulp novelists like John D MacDonald. To my mind, Himes is particularly tasty bubble-gum for the brain. Of the verisimilitude of his characters I cannot comment. Harlem in the forties and fifties is as far removed from Cardiff in the ‘teens as I can possibly imagine (I sell myself short of course, but you g…