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Infinite Ground by Martin MacInnes

There is something awful about it,
she said, in the old sense.
Infinite Ground followed from The Vorrh by virtue of the pull of the jungle and the mystery of the title. I spotted it on the shelves of Griffin Books whilst ostensibly looking for a book for my 7-year-old son (who incidentally chose The Wild Beyond by Piers Torday, book three of a slightly bleak trilogy set in a future where humans have all but killed off the wildlife) and such was the attraction (my mind was still in the verdurous oppression of the ancient forest) that I even overlooked my much considered, and newly admitted, prejudicial predilection for avoiding Scottish-sounding authors. It also called distantly to Ways To Disappear by Idra Novey, a book I thought I’d forgotten but which persists despite my best intentions.

What the book tells us is that a young man has gone missing, possibly into the jungle of the unnamed South American country, and a retired police detective goes off in pursuit. What it doesn’t tell us, rather pleasingly, is that it could all be in the mind of the detective.

Or could it?

Yes, it could. In fact, there is a handy chapter with a variety of possible scenarios for the rather bizarre wanderings of the narrative, in which it is posited that the disappearance is simply the imagining of a mind crushed by grief and despair at the loss of his wife.

As our hapless and confused detective learns of companies who employ actors to fill empty offices, develops affections for a lab-coated assistant, rents a lock-up to recreate the disappearance of Carlos, interviews family members who themselves are actors, stand-ins for Carlos’ real family, wanders the jungle with a group of tourists, and finds himself marooned in a deserted village deep among the trees, slowly losing sense of his humanity, this crafty little novel takes an epistemological tour of one man’s nervous breakdown. It’s fun, and weird in a good way, and MacInnes clearly enjoys some discomfiting wordsmithery – imagery is thought-provoking and unfamiliar in that way which prompts rumination. It also defies a neat categorisation, something which will always endear a novel to me. A tense, suspenseful detective thriller it might not be, but it is quite possible our detective does solve the mystery of Carlos’ disappearance, although by that point it is hard to trust that anything you read is true.


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…