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The Broken Mirror by Jonathan Coe

It was a small garden, and it didn’t take her
long to get bored, out there by herself.
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 themes at which it takes aim. However, against it is the fact that such simplistic treatment of local disenfranchisement, the failure of multiculturalism and the corruption of local government leaves it sat squarely between the fantastical pseudo-Narnian children’s fable it might have been and a pithy and profound Swiftian satire that Coe has decided it was intended to be all along. It falls between stools. And honestly, for a bitter, jaded forty-something liberal lapsed humanist such as me, it’s all a bit trite and fluffy. 

Yes, Claire’s tale is dark and telling of the troubles that our children will face growing up in the post-austerity shithole that Tory Euro-sceptics have left us all in, but equally, no-one but the people who can actually see through all the tripe have found the pieces of the enchanted mirror, so no-one is actually challenged on their political beliefs and it’s the liberals who are empowered to see the alternative reality portrayed in the shards; no-one is enlightened who wasn’t previously.

Don’t let me put you off buying and cherishing this attractive little book – it surely has value for very many people out there and is wonderfully produced, to the superbly high standards of everything to which Unbound turn their hands. However, for me, I could have done without being lightly patronized for the twenty minutes or so it took me to finish.


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 …