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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 Elephant by Sławomir Mrożek

It’s a wonder that Sławomir Mrożek lived to be 83. Maybe the post-Stalin regimes of Georgy Malenkov, Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev were less likely to pitch a critical satirist into an unmarked grave or have him dragged off to winter in Siberia than was Uncle Joe. Maybe he just wasn’t widely read and therefore not deemed a threat. Or perhaps his support of the Stalinist persecution of religious leaders in Poland and his membership of the Polish United Workers’ Party (until he defected) stood him in historical stead good enough so that he didn’t find himself on the sharp end of a radioactive umbrella. Because frankly, having read The Elephant, published in 1957 but not banned until 1968, it’s hard to see anyone in the Soviet bureaucracy letting this level of criticism go unpunished.
Take the titular story, The Elephant, one of 42 similarly absurd political satires in this slim volume. A provincial zoo, lacking “all the important animals” is awarded an elephant by the Party, muc…

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

Hi, how’ve you been? I’ve been busy myself, thanks for asking. In fact, I was so busy I began contemplating a terminal hiatus from this, ostensibly purposeless endeavour. However, for reasons, I chose not to take it. So on with the show and back to Helen DeWitt.
If there’s one thing about this dense, frankly mind-bogglingly erudite book to love/find empathy with (apart from my own Canadian edition’s deckle-edged hardbackedness – deckle edges; good or bad? Discuss!), it would have to be the passages narrated by Sibylla, mother to genius progeny Ludo. As a parent to one post-toddler and one pre-toddler, as well as occasional taker-up-of-space in the lives of three other young human beings, there are so very few occasions where a simple conversation can be carried out to its logical terminus without interruption and digression; conversations start, stop, return to the beginning, are interrupted once more, are delayed and postponed, and cycle back again until it’s time to give up, get off …

The Last Werewolf Trilogy by Glen Duncan

A trilogy of werewolf novels, the remaining three books of Duncan’s published oeuvre left for me to read, and I’ve gone and devoured them all in one go. I’ve made similar mistakes before; reading every single book I could find by one author as soon as they’re found. It usually ends up in a colossal mess of plot lines, meaning and symbolism in the gray matter, and an inability to unravel one from the other and explain, convincingly, to anyone why they should be read – especially challenging when one’s former job was to sell books to people on the strength of personal recommendations. Nonetheless, I decided that to read these three contiguously made sense, in so far as I have a strong distaste at being left hanging on for the next instalment, be it television series’, serialised print articles or trilogies. And, *COP OUT KLAXON* to review them in one Mega Review Article was the way forward too. So, here’s the quick and habitual disclaimer / plea for clemency. This way, you’ll have to de…

The One from the Other by Philip Kerr

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…