Monday, 4 February 2019

Vermilion Sands by J.G. Ballard

“The geometric forms loomed and wavered in the haze, like shifting symbols of a beckoning dream.”

I went on a date the other day and the guy made the mistake of asking me what I’d been reading. Well, I said, a collection of strange science fiction short stories where the protagonist sleeps with a lot of women who are reminiscent of mythological creatures. You guessed it, there isn’t going to be a date two.
Anyway, enough of my crazy adventures, back to the work at hand. I have always been a huge fan of the dark worlds of Ballard. I don’t know what that says about me. Nevertheless, this short story collection seemed the work of a younger, more positive individual. At least he manages to have sex with almost all the weird women of the stories. That’s not to say things end well, no quite the opposite. These tales seem much more optimistic than the horrors of Cocaine Nights or Crash, for example.
Vermilion Sands is a setting, a strange and unusual place that is delivered up as some kind of symphony with contradictory movements. Art, music, philosophy and poetry play pivotal roles, as if the women characters are symbolic of creation and inspiration. I particularly loved the tale about the singing plants. Sex and death, as always in Ballard play a starring role.
The copy I read was gorgeous, part of the Vintage Futures series, it has this rather trippy cover which “animates” courtesy of an inner sheet.  I’m rather looking forward to hear the thoughts of my pseudo -book club pal Nicki on this one.
5 out of 5 sail away with me permanently.


Saturday, 2 February 2019

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

"The feel of his warm hard body under the silky shirt was almost worryingly beautiful, a promise too lavish to believe in."

This novel has been sitting on my shelf awaiting my attention for a year or so now. I was initially put off by its girth. I've had a short attention span of late and was reticent to launch into something sizeable. I noted however that The Line of Beauty  is included on a lot of must read lists and so my rubber arm was twisted.

There was something so perfect about launching into a lengthy tale about a young man who is really a fish out of water in the cocaine fuelled years before AIDS began to take a hefty toll during the four hour process of turning blonde again ( with eighties bangs to boot). Set in the upper class echelons of the British ruling class, the protagonist is very much an outsider. Nick Guest is a young guy with rather well to do friends, who have helpfully let a room to him while he's at university. As he grows into himself the sense of difference and inclusion is a weird one. That sense of being in but out is one I could always relate to.

Sure it was a little awkward as the foils went in, I was worried my hairdresser could read the gay sex scenes, or the cocaine snorting depictions, over my shoulder, or  perhaps more upsettingly, the words Margaret Thatcher. Hollinghurst is a beautiful writer and the entire novel just seemed to fly by.

I'm not sure I've enlightened you too much today with this discussion. I'm a bit tired - summer is so draining. In short, there is a reason why this novel is so well-regarded, it is a great read.

5 out of 5 - I am killing the 1001 list at the moment.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt by Robert I Sutton

“Yes, you should try to get away from assholes, but don’t be an idiot about it.”

Having had a lengthy career in Asshole Survival, I was eager to find some further tips to broaden my arsenal in taking them on. Sadly, I just felt a little vindicated about my usual methodologies and concerned that I may have fallen victim one too many times to denial. The feeling that the person was perhaps suffering a temporary blip and really, deep down they must be inherently nice. That explains the last few years of dating at any rate.

I heard an interview with the author on a podcast on the abc and was eager to learn more.
So as I set out on the train to my place of work, where there are a number of prize examples, I pondered on my efforts to escape and dove deep into the pages. I'm not going to say it made for a happy read.
Would I recommend this book? Not unreservedly, but yes. It has some great tips and is well written. Ultimately its up to the reader to ensure they are not treated like dirt. Blocking assholes on every communication device is a sure fire winner when you can.

4 out of 5 assholes are a pain in the butt.

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

“She loved him, though not at this particular moment.”

How to describe this moody and depressing novella? Well on the plus side, it's inclusion on the 1001 books you must read before you die list makes it a must read for this completer of lists. On the negative, well it is inherently negative.

A couple that have very much morphed into an almost asexual relationship take a vacation. While unnamed you can't help but be convinced they are in Venice. Indeed it reminded me of a particularly unromantic stay there with the former bane of my existence. A chance meeting with a local owner of a bar, Robert, sends the story on a weird tangent.
Is Robert hitting on Colin? He's certainly been hitting his wife.

That is the least disturbing thing that occurs. Things are about to get bat shit crazy before the end of this slim volume. I guarantee  that you will however, keep reading to the end. Enjoyment is unlikely to be found.

3 out of 5 holiday experiences can be harrowing.

The Victorian Chaise Longue by Marghanita Laski

"It was ugly and clumsy and extraordinary, nearly seven feet long and proportionately wide."

Have you ever felt so run down that you literally melted into a couch. We’ve all had those days and to be frank, I’m working through one today. Imagine if you fell asleep only to find yourself trapped in the body of someone else who was on the verge of death? That notion makes for some unpleasant sensations and ones that are frighteningly depicted in The Victorian Chaise Longue, a short little story that packs a punch.
Recovering from Tuberculosis and desperate to return to health to spend quality time with her newborn baby, Melanie moves out of her bedroom and onto a recently purchased, rather garish, chaise longue. Stained and covered in a floral pattern. It is not long before she nods off and awakens to a terrifying nightmare.
I’ve probably given way too much away with that brief description, this is, after all, a very short story. It seemed almost cinematic in scope and would, I thought, make a fantastic screenplay. Further googling online unearthed the fact that the story had already been adapted both in 1957, with Joan Fontaine and Ronald Regan as part of the General Electric Theatre TV series and also as a Studio 4 televised play in 1962
Happily, this is another from the Guardian’s 1000 novels list completed, you know how I love to finish a list. Well, actually I still have a fair whack to go

4 out of 5 op shop finds can be dangerous.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

“And while most people saw nightwalkers as creepy brain-dead denizens of the winter whose hobbies revolved around mumbling and cannibalism, we saw them as someone who had returned from the dark abyss of hibernations with most of everything left behind.”

The release of a new Jasper Fforde novel is always a cause for celebration at my house and at the home of my best bibliophile friend, Nicki. Yes, we worship at the altar of Fforde and for good reason. His books are pure delight. The Thursday Next series is a particular favourite.

This latest novel is quite different and took me a little while to get into. Don't let that dissuade you in any way because it is totally worth sticking with. Imagine that we're living in the world of today and that today is something like Game of Thrones  after winter has taken over. Like cold weather, it takes  a little time to acclimatise to this unusual winter world.

It's late and I'm a little light on words tonight, so I'm just going to urge you to grab a copy and a nice hot drink and settle in for an enjoyable time. Pull up a blanket, pray that your ears don't get bitten off and that you don't have an adverse reaction to your meds because all of these sorts of instances are commonplace within the pages of the novel.

Scandal. secret plots, people who make their own rules in a wintery frontier-like scenario where dreams are an anomaly that could kill. I hope I've peaked your interest.

5 out of 5 dream or nightmare? - you decide.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

“Her dark eyes made little reflected stars. She was looking at him as she was always looking at him when he awakened.”

When Kino's baby son is bitten by a scorpion he lacks the money to pay for a doctor. While treating the wound by the sea, Kino uncovers a massive oyster which holds an exceptionally large pearl within.
Riffing on the idea that money is the root of all evil, this short story is a compelling tale of greed and the grief it brings. It does not have a happy ending.

I'm not sure I can fill you on more details without ruining the whole story. I suggest you invest your time in reading what amounts to a very quick read and one that is descriptive and beautifully and gut wrenchingly delivered.

5 out of 5 times money can't buy you happiness.