Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Tenth Man by Graham Greene

"Nevertheless no collaborator felt a more hunted man than Charlot, for his past was equally shameful: he could explain to no one how he had lost his money — if indeed it was not already known."

In the author's introduction to this tale, its origin story points to cinematic aspirations and I think that is very clear from the prose. I could envisage each scene in front of me on the big screen or as a play, at its heart is a character study of how people behave when their life is on the line.

In prison during the war in France, the Nazis have undertaken to execute every tenth prisoner and ten men have to decide who will be the unlucky one.When our protagonist, a wealthy lawyer, is the loser through drawing lots, he promises all his assets to the man who will take his place. Javier sees an opportunity for his family and takes the unpleasant deal.

Four years later, Chavel returns to the town he left behind and that's where things get interesting. Rather than give too much away, I mean there are only about 200 pages to read after all; I'd suggest you peruse the pages yourself. Returning back to the story's cinematic feel— I'm not sure that this has been adapted and if it hasn't it should be.

You might be wondering why I've subtracted a point and I think that is more about the timing of the novel's end. There is a lengthy build up for a rather speedy finale, which added to my perceptions of its movie-like quality. Usually you can develop more within the novel framework as there's more scope and time. This is not my favourite Greene novel by any means and yet it is still pretty darn great.

 4 out of 5 repercussions are never fun.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime by Misha Glenny.

"Behind the desk an exceptionally good-looking woman in her twenties shares the look of infinite boredom which I note is as essential to whorehouses as the high heels."

After I had finished watching the intensely gripping BBC tv series with the same name, I was compelled to purchase the nonfiction source material and was not disappointed. Absent (the very easy on the eye) James Norton, an exploration of the dark side of organised crime across the planet proved to be just as interesting, possibly more so, because the stories are real.
Glenny’s journalistic skills embed the narrative with a sense of immediacy and the book is at its most powerful when it draws a connection between nefarious activities and the way they impact the everyday lives of his readers. It highlights the way people turn a blind eye towards criminal activities in order to feed our desires, be they cheap movies, illicit substances or  cheap thrills.

Weirdly, by examining the growth of organised crime across the globe, Glenny demonstrates how it doesn't matter where you come from, or your beliefs, when faced with hardship, a Machiavellian approach to attaining financial security is a pretty common human approach. Certainly it underscores the notion that the promise of an extremely well paying job, requiring no specific skills, with vague terms in a far away land is likely to end in either prostitution, drug smuggling or modern slavery of some kind. 

So while the tv series gave a glossy insight into the corrupting influence of power and money from a top down perspective, its source material delves deeper down. Combined they provide insightful entrees into what goes on  everywhere from down the back alleys, to the backrooms, up to the boardrooms across the globe . The picture they paint isn't pretty.

5 out of 5

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Not Fade Away by Jim Dodge

"At the moment I took off in that stolen Eldorado I wasn't contemplating the exquisitely bottomless metaphysical definitions of freedom, you understand, I was feeling  the wild, crazy joy of actually cutting loose and doing it."

Are you ready to take a wild ride in a snazzy vehicle? Well fasten your seat belt sonny Jim and let's get cracking. This road trip features stolen vehicles, strange characters, wacky hats and a bizarre LSD trip. It has moments of pure brilliance that convince you of being out of control and behind the wheel. Combine that with the music of the Big Bopper and his tragic aeroplane companions - indeed the book title refers to the Buddy Holly song.

George Gastin is a kind of shonky guy, a minor criminal with a dodgy insurance scam on the go. When he has to wreck a Cadillac that was supposed to be gifted to the late Big Bopper from a fan, he takes off in the vehicle for a pilgrimage / adventure that makes for an entertaining read.

Am I 100% on board with this one? Well I felt there were a few off patches, but I'm not sure whether that was more to do with reading it piecemeal and being a little stressed with work. What a surprise I hear you say? Yes, it seems to be a thing. Conversely there were moments where I legitimately felt completely immersed in the action; behind the steering wheel, encountering crazy characters and having strange, messed up, drug-addled experiences.

4 out of 5 road trips involve long drives which can be tiring - stop, revive, survive.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

MI5 and Me, A Coronet Among the Spooks by Charlotte Bingham

"I should have liked it if my life could have returned to what nice people would call normal, but now I  was part of the inner circle that surrounded my father, I had a feeling that it was not going to be possible."

Having read the synopsis for this new release, I was totally on board and quickly secured a copy. This memoir is delightfully understated and therein lies much of its charm. Lottie bumbles about with a kind of Hugh Grant-esque britishness that doesn't seem real. Accidentally discovering communist plots after being told by her father about the real circumstances of his employment, In reality he was supposed to be the inspiration for the character of George Smiley - and you know how much I do love those novels.

I'm not sure how much of the book I can discuss without ruining it. It meanders in a delightful manner and I ate it up. Is it the kind of work that I could wax lyrical about for hours - probably not. Having said that, it is just as tasty as the many tea-cakes sprinkled within its pages.

A look back at a time when stakes were high and the world was not what it seemed. Maybe some things never change.

5 out of 5 - Don't order the lobster.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

"A teaching post, a conference, a writing retreat, a travel article, and so on. And, like  those Sicilian nuns who, once a year, appear behind a little curtain, singing, so that their families can gaze upon them, in his study, in his little house, for Arthur Less a curtain lifted upon a singular idea."

If you are asking yourself.."hmm... should I read the latest Pulitzer Prize winner?", might I suggest the answer should be a resounding yes. This is a brilliantly rendered story that reminds me of the Peter Pan aspects of my own life. Those of us who aren't pre-occupied with progeny - the girls who've not yet "met mister right", the boys that like other boys and can't afford, or don't wish for a surrogate. Some might feel our lives are a little dull - newsflash they're not. We still feel the same struggles, we just tend to look a little less wrinkled while doing it. Arthur Less is our spirit animal.

I am madly in love with  Arthur Less - I mean we have so much in common  - failed novelist ( let's face it I'm not even at the point where I've got to the novel - its a pipe dream at this point), romantic basket case looking for a relationship's positives without the long standing negatives. Honestly, if he wasn't a gay man, and was instead a lady of a certain age - well the story would be way too personal. I might even blush.

This novel brings a delightful mix of comedy and pathos that just drew me in wholeheartedly. I felt pain, amusement, disdain - I just felt a hell of a lot and still managed to laugh with mischievous abandon. My biggest complaint in relation to the book, was the fact that it wasn't longer. Lately it seems so many books are overly lengthy like they're trying to make up for some other kind of inadequacy - this is the exact opposite.

Arthur makes the most of his past relationship with a much lauded poet, to discover an out from the wedding of his most recent lover to another party. His ex was the adopted son of his biggest enemy, and inappropriately young, who knew that the relationship ending could have such an impact.It's funny how you can fall into seemingly inappropriate and "free" situations that turn out to be the exact opposite.

Having finished the novel, I just want to fall back into the story again and spend some more quality time with Mr Less. That however, will have to wait as sleep is making far more vociferous demands.

 5 out of 5 holidays are a good way to avoid uncomfortable situations.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

“Miri was not happy when Rusty showed up at the Osners' party. And even less happy to see she was wearing her good black dress, her dress shoes and stockings with seams. Then there was the hair. Rita Hayworth hair. To her shoulders. Heads turned when Rusty came into the living room.” 

I have had this in my ‘to be read’ pile for what seems like an eon. The reason? Well, the usual times I’d pick up a 400 plus page books for some quality reading usually involve plane travel. Generally, I don’t want to be reminded of the prospect of plane crashes when travelling. In fact, it seemed like every time I reached for this copy someone I knew and cared about (if not myself) was sitting on a plane or about to board one. 

My memories of Judy Blume novels from childhood are indelible. To this day I think of every penis I see as secretly being called Ralph and I crave peanut butter and jelly – both of these things I attribute to devouring her works as a young child. They were illicitly thrilling because they spoke to the young mind and reminded us that our thoughts had merit, that the world was scary and confusing, but that we weren’t alone in our experiences. Needless to say, diving into her novel for the adult market, I held ridiculously high expectations, that weren’t immediately met. 

The pacing and the blunt trauma of the beginning of the novel made it hard to traverse. There were so many characters and so much going on, including different time references. This was a novel that needed some dedicated time to ‘take it all in’ so to speak. Perseverance was definitely worth it, because what the author has delivered here is an amazing picture of the impact of unbelievable childhood trauma mixed in with the usual challenges of coming of age, growing older and becoming the adult, you never expected to be. 

I found myself almost in tears at times and that I’d adopted new families of characters that I really cared about. Rushed marriages, unwanted pregnancies, affairs, hearing voices, anorexia, orphans – there is a lot going on here and that’s not even the highlight reel. Perhaps the moments that shone brightest were the snatches of quick lived joy or the recognition of understanding by others. Such as when Henry says to Miri ““sweetheart—life is hard…but it’s worth the struggle.” 

When three planes fall from the sky in the one town (the story is based upon some real tragedies in the fifties), perhaps the resulting tragedy acts as a parable to go out and live our best lives, because who knows how long they will last. 

5 out of 5: stick with it and take your time

Friday, 18 May 2018

Nevermoor, The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

"Now she was being blamed for something that hadn't even happened yet."

Did you ever feel a little cursed as a child? I did. Mostly because of the neighbour that picked on me, and the kid that kicked me on the bus and the other kids that called me names. Yep, childhood was a bit of a drag. How I would have loved a heroine like Morrigan Crow in those days. She is a delight. This is so much better than Harry Potter - there I said it. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a little Potter now and again, but this I just devoured like Messina Gelato. Could not get enough of it. Already desperate to read the next novel and find out what happens.

This is a magical world with palpable problems and the fear of real harm.  It has at its heart an emotional journey from rejection and isolation into friendship, family and acceptance. That in itself is beautiful. Then there's the action and suspense, fabulously delivered in true page turning style. I read this on the train to and from work ( with a sneaky lunch break peek) and was done in no time. The minute I finished, I just wanted to go back and read it again. Am I just an overgrown child you may well ask - quite possibly. I think this will appeal to anyone's inner child - if it is still intact that is - some people are just way too cynical.

Talking giant cats, festivities, challenges and adorable characters, go grab yourself  a copy this instant. Should you feel too embarrassed to buy what is ostensibly a book for children, find a niece or nephew to read it too. Sure its sneaky, but you'll all have fun.

5 out of 5 cursed kids everywhere are just a little bit wonderful.