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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?

Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

In days gone by, when repeatedly pressed about what my favourite book might be, a banal question seeking an impossible and crude reductionist answer to which I was usually rude in response, I would offer Breakfast Of Champions as a pacifier. 

I first read it in University, and it has, to some degree, influenced how I think and feel about a lot of things. Strikingly, I've never wanted to re-read it. Perhaps I was afraid I'd find fault the second time around and wanted to uphold it as a paragon of meta-fiction. Perhaps, but then I'm a relentless consumer of fiction and was always on to the next consumable work, never having time or inclination to go back.

So in the spirit of a more considered and thoughtful phase of my life I decided I wanted to read something that once made me feel good.

I'd clearly not remembered it very well.

But before that, I'm amazed I've gone *mumbles* years without once mentioning Kilgore Trout in my reviews, even in passing. The same goes fo…

Fup by Jim Dodge

If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.

We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …

Concrete by Thomas Bernhard

I thought I'd talked about Thomas Bernhard here somewhere before - the vitriol, the bitterness, the hilarity that was Old Masters - but it appears not, or, more likely, that I search like I think; superficially. Nevertheless, at least I now have the opportunity to present him for your consideration, albeit with the oily glaze of my opinion applied liberally. 

An Austrian author and playwright, Bernhard had a curious relationship with the land of his birth. He was highly critical of both the people and state, regularly attacking the church, the government, the populace (who he labelled stupid and stubbornly contemptuous) and venerable old institutions like the concert halls and cultural venues of Vienna. Indeed, in his will, he strictly forbade any new productions of his works, both unpublished novels and poems, and stagings of his plays. His characters often deliver long monologues filled with bile and spite, frequently inhabiting considered but oddly irrational-seeming positions. …

Love And Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon

"When he was young, like me, he said, he used to think that all the great writers knew something he didn't... He was burning to write, he wanted to break through to that fancy knowledge, he was hungry for it. But now he knew that that hunger was vainglorious; now he knew that writers knew nothing, really; most of them were just faking it. He knew nothing. There was nothing to know, nothing on the other side." – The Noble Truth of SufferingYou know me and short stories–I shan't revisit old graves–but every now and again I find a collection, usually with one author, that simply blows me away. Something in them speaks to personae I didn't even know I hid behind. Something rips free the mask, the fiercely clutched identity, fake as you like, and exposes everything. Those authors I fall madly in love with, because I hate them. I detest that they can say things that are as yet unformed zygotes in the barren womb of my mind, not even the germ of a clumsy, badly phrased …