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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?

Selected Holiday Reading - The In-Betweeners Abroad

I always try to travel light, a goal, something with which those among you with bookish leanings will empathise, that is challenging for someone intending to do as much reading as they can whilst ignoring as much culture and scenery as is possible. So huzzah and indeed hurrah for the generic e-book reader and its market competitors. Ten years ago I would likely have suffered a paroxysm of disgust for any apologist of the hated technology. Now, it seems, I must take one everywhere I go for more than one night.

The trip to which I am coming, an August sojourn by ferry to Santander and then by VW through Calabria, the Basque country, and north through Aquitaine, Poitou-Charente, Pays de la Loire and Bretagne, was a chance to get some serious reading under the belt. Twelve days of driving, drinking, books and beaches. The only 'real' books that made the trip were The Vagabond's Breakfast, of which more anon, and All The Days And Nights which, as I was on a deadline, I quickly …

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…

Augustus Carp, Esq., By Himself: Being the Autobiography of a Really Good Man, by Henry Howarth Bashford

So it goes that, for one reason or other, I was asked recently* to recommend a list of classic British comic novels that one might take on holibobs, to be read at the pool, on the beach, or in this case at a sprawling, crumbling ancestral seat in the heart of Ireland during a month-long fishing expedition.
Unfortunately, every suggestion I made was knocked back, either for reasons of personal (bad) taste or because it had already been read. I thought long and hard** and serendipitously, most likely due to having read this post from the most excellent Neglected Booksblog, but equally likely due to a ringing endorsement from Anthony Burgess at some point or other, I came upon Augustus Carp Esq, a book I noticed I had on my e-reader, although how and why it was there is anybody’s guess.
Penned by a notable English physician, one which any blog of note would not neglect to mention once was physician to a contemporaneous English King (George the something?), it is ill-in-keeping with any of …

The Quiddity of Will Self by Sam Mills

It’s hard to say, when asked as I was recently at a meeting of local writers (who you can follow on Twitter if you wish), who might be my favourite author. If you look at my book shelves, you might see groupings of books by modern authors such as (WARNING - gratuitous alphabetical roll-call):
Paul Auster, John Barth, Richard Brautigan, Thomas Bernhard, Jim Bob, T.C. Boyle, Karel Čapek, Jonathan Carroll, Stephen Donaldson, Glen Duncan, Tibor Fischer, Peter Høeg, Michel Houellebeq, Bohumil Hrabal, Ismail Kadare, Andrey Kurkov, John D McDonald, Harry Mullisch, Haruki Murakami, Cees Nooteboom, Victor Pelevin, Thomas Pynchon, Jon Ronson, and Kurt Vonnegut (my usual go-to favourite when I don’t have the energy to explain).
In addition, you might just spot every book ever published by one William Woodard "Will" Self (minus Sore Sites which mysteriously vanished while moving house a few years back). Whilst a fan, and also willing to admit experiencing an embarrassing and sometimes di…