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Showing posts from May, 2018

Books of Note

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Not surprisingly, like a lot of John Darnielle’s music, particularly those songs on the album The Sunset Tree (Pale Green Things springs to mind and is very much worth listening to), his writing only slowly reveals itself and its narrative direction. Not in any turgid or tedious fashion, but rather in an unhurried, gentler and more thoughtful way. Universal Harvester rolls gently along its path with only a few disconcerting and probably deliberate hiccups. It starts in Iowa in the 1990s with a young man, still living at home with his father but unable to leave because of the weight of his mother’s death, years before, in a car crash. The trauma tethers Jeremy and his father together like the gravitational pull of a dead star in a comfortable and predictable but numb orbit, but it’s never something that either of them can discuss openly.
Jeremy works at a VHS rental store, so we’re assuredly early-Worldwide Web era. His job is simple, repetitive, and keeps him and his father in entertai…

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

I guess at some point I should give all this* up and resign myself to the facts of my life - that there will never be enough time for everything and everything that is not everything will get in everything's way, without a shadow of a doubt. Some six months has passed since I first picked up book three of The Passage trilogy and once more I can't remember any of the characters' names, except Amy, the girl / vampire / heroine / old lady as it turns out of the story. There are some people in it from before, some names I can sort-of scratch at from under the silver foil of my hazy memory, but without ever winning the jackpot of full recall. Peter? Michael? And the former army-type person and now, unsurprisingly, a vampire-type, whose name escapes me.

And there's a new bad guy (of course there is), the original bad guy who has been hiding the whole time in an unwritten back story. 

Well, now it's written. And I can remember nearly nothing of any of it.

Anyway, from what I…

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…

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 …

Veins by Drew

In an effort to make the top half of the blog landing page look as though there are words in some of the posts and not just pictures and Amazon adverts, I thought I’d push out a review of something I’d read recently rather than stick to the strict order of things. So here goes nothing.
I read Veins as I used to enjoy Toothpaste for Dinner, a comic strip by the author, Drew. TFD is dark and daft and en vogue with the current trend for consistently well-done badly drawn cartoons. Plus, Veins was really cheap and quite short, and I’m swayed by the arguments in defense of short(er) fiction*, particularly when it helps push my books read beyond 40 a year…
It delivers something similar. The narrator, M.R., is a dumbass, a deadbeat bum who has a curiously skewed positive slant on his demonstrably awful life. Teased remorselessly in high school (they call him “Veins” and “Titty Veins” because of his pale, transparent skin and later because he develops fat man boobs) he prefers to hide in the ro…

The Broken Mirror by Jonathan Coe

I think, or at least, I believe I think I enjoyed Jonathan Coe’s novels when I was in university and shortly thereafter. Although I couldn’t tell you now what it was about, What A Carve Up! has maintained a halo of untouchable sanctity on the nostalgic bookshelves of my mind (whereas the physical copy went in the great purge), as does, for some reason, The Dwarves of Death. However, Coe’s The Rotters Club and other, more recent works, can chuffing well do one for all the entertainment they afforded me. So it was with not a little trepidation that I chucked however many quid at Unbound for their pitch of Coe’s “coming-of-age fairy tale… a charming, relevant read that has much to offer all generations.”
Sadly, this one missed it’s mark with me too. In its defense, it’s short, a mere 80-odd pages, with around 10% of those given over to arguably lovely pictures from the Italian artist and collaborator Chiara Coccorese, so of course it can’t be a long-form exploration of the political theme…