Monday, 18 November 2013

Serenade by James M Cain

"How she got my name and address didn't bother me."

Take a delightfully noir trip back to Mexico in the thirties, where a washed up Opera singer and a seductive prostitute make for an unlikely but engaging couple. There will be murder, sex, singing, the love that dares not speak its name and sea travel. As per Cain's other works such as the more well known The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity, you won't want to miss this. It is just great.
His characters smoulder, you can almost hear the opera in the air while you're running from angry politicos.

The Internet, that wonderful source of information, tells me that there was a film version of this made and I would really love to see it! Somehow, I imagine, given the timing, it would be a far less suggestive piece than the novel. Indeed wikipedia confirms they ditched the brothel plans, the bisexuality and pretty much re-wrote the story - oh but there was an Opera singer - that's one win.

This was a very unexpected tale, which made it all the more intriguing. For some reason I thought of it when watching The Counselor  at the movies yesterday, and it wasn't just due to my Michael Fassbender obsession, but he would make a really interesting protagonist in an updated cinematic reinterpretation. Tenuous link i know, but it gives me a reason to post this...

5 out of 5 reasons to get hot and sweaty in the desert.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Dust by Hugh Howey

"She could feel people gawking at the scars even when she was fully clothed."

Thank you Mr Howey, I relished my journey into an alternate world which in so many ways mirrors our own - with additional levels of claustrophobia thrown in. To be kept in the dark, to be fed lies, its a bit like believing what you see on prime time commercial current affairs shows, but i digress.

The final instalment in the silos trilogy was much anticipated and does not disappoint. The continuing quest for the truth, the battle to gain acceptance of the truth from the silo dwellers and the sense that time is running out -make for a thrilling adventure.

Nicki, you will be ecstatic to know you can now borrow this from me! If you haven't started the series yet people, then get cracking. This is sci-fi at its thrilling best.

5 out of 5 diggers get dusty.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

“She picks up her pen”

It seems this was the week for reading books where I’d already seen the movie. A past winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Pen/Faulkner Award, this much acclaimed novel also quite helpfully ticked a few more numbers off my many and varied to read list.

Initial thoughts are a little muted. It has been a really long week and I might have finished this novel in the wee small hours of the morning. It concerns the stories of 3 very different women drawn together by the works of Virginia Woolf. Perhaps I would have enjoyed this story more, were I  a greater fan of her work.

The author, Woolf is even a character in the novel. Something you would also know from watching the film - and Kidman's infamous prosthetic nose - the nose steals the show. Back to the novel, for I digress. It really is hard to escape from a stressful week with a novel that opens up with a suicide. Placing stones in your pocket and going for a swim was beginning to sound quite relaxing - not a pleasant thought at all.

I think I just wasn't in the mood to appreciate this melange of stories that all seemed a little bit too depressing to bear. Was it well crafted, yes  it was. I cared about the characters, I found the world's well realized, I just couldn't be bothered with a melancholy tale this week and for that I subtract one point. Death, AIDS and flower arranging, just not the book for me.

4 out of 5 Woolf fans don't cry wolf.

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

“Protest  woke in her eyes and throat, but something covered her face, smothering her in a sweet stench.”

This is, for me, one of those rare occasions where I preferred the movie to the book. I found the film terrifying and terrific, playing on those inner commitment phobic fears that make child bearing seem, to be, to be a scary undertaking.
Let’s face it, if anyone was going to hook up with a hot looking devil, it would be me ;) So perhaps my reticence is warranted.

But enough about me, back to the novel. I really wish I hadn't seen the film, so that the impact would be fresh and the thrills more intense. There was something just a little lukewarm and I can only put it down to the fact that I knew what would transpire before it did.

The apartment building is still creepy, as are the neighbours - droopy boobs and chocolate moose and all. I wondered about the sub-text also. Here, as in The Stepford Wives, another novel of Levin's that I have recently read, we have a modern woman enslaved by her marriage. Her control is taken away by a man eager to re-claim the dominant masculine status quo of the past. That did seem quite revolting and I wish that aspect were more of a foreign conceit, but sadly, the battle of the sexes continues apace.

What is really interesting is the internal dilemma and change that the couple's marriage undergoes after that one trippy night where the poor drugged wife endures a rather fruitful coupling that she could never have anticipated, despite her previous underhanded attempts to get pregnant. I think the movie made much more of a visceral impact, particularly in this regard. In the film, you , the viewer are being attacked, whilst in the novel there is a greater sense of remove and dialogue with Jackie Kennedy to distract.

 4 out of 5 drugged desserts and tannis root smells are a sure sign you should move.

Friday, 8 November 2013

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

"Daddy done a rudey this morning at breakfast and Mammy went mad."

This collection of interspersed stories is somewhat akin to visiting a small village in Ireland and jumping in and out of everyone's heads. Their inner monologues make for particularly interesting reads. Of interest is the contradictory view points, often of the same events.

I rather enjoyed this. Naturally some voices resonated more than others. The critical reception of this novel has been rather positive with the book landing a place in the Booker Prize long list and also taking out Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards for 2012. The stories range from the mundane to the violent, yet retain the reader's engagement.

4 out of 5 inner monologues are dying to get out.

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

"I found Mr Dickens' sentence, shut my eyes and committed it to memory before kicking away every trace."

In terms of literary adventures, this year has been chock to the brim. I had the greatest pleasure of getting better acquainted with the fascinating creature that is Pip of Great Expectations  and then the joy of re-visiting him through the adoring eyes of young Matilda.

Soon to be gracing cinemas with the always delightful Hugh Laurie in the lead, this novel is a joy to behold. It so expertly captures the delight of storytelling and  escapism. How a child can learn about far away lands and different cultures and educate others through its retelling.

Closing the book, I had a real sense that  I'd been on the island with Matilda and I felt a real longing to return.

5 out of 5 expectations are great.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

"The cat had a name like hers, but not exactly."

A sequel to The Shining, I hear you say...what a startling notion. As if the first novel (and the film that followed in its wake) wasn't the scariest thing every, imagine Danny Torrance's torturous life after his time at the Overlook Hotel. Stephen King has so generously provided a little closure to those of us who found it hard to sleep after reading of the juvenile Danny's torments.

Who could forget the ultimate betrayal that Danny underwent in the remote, wintry surrounds of the off-season hotel? Dare you subject yourself to more of the same? If, perhaps you are feeling brave, then crack open the spine of this chilling sequel and prepare for thrills, chills and a basic lack of sleep.

Dan Torrance has grown and not everything is rosy. Who knew he would replace his mentor as the shining guide for little powerhouse, Abra Stone.

I fear to give too much away would detract from the suspense, suffice to say, this is entertaining, spine-chilling stuff that sits easily among the King canon.

5 out of 5 hairs on the back of your neck will rise to attention.

Monday, 4 November 2013

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

"You really should write the cheater's guide to love." 

This at times unflattering collection of short stories of past relationships makes for an engaging read. While there are times, as a female reader, where the behaviour of the protagonist irritated me, it is a reflection of just how great the writing is here. Likewise, if anyone were to turn the mirror on themselves in such an honest way, it is unlikely that all that would appear would be sunshine and roses. 

The collection of stories brings an immediacy and rawness which is impressive in its no holds barred veracity. My overarching impression was that the author was a great writer, but I’d hate to date him.

Whether his characters are an accurate portrayal of the author’s inner workings is probably a harsh and potentially inaccurate judgement to make, however there is a real sense of the gender divide here between men and women explicitly uncovered. I wonder also if the same sentiments were expressed by a female character, whether it might be easier to swallow. So much of our perspective is coloured by our own inner quibbles.

The fantastically rendered writing saw this novel achieve  Finalist  status in the 2012 National Book Award (USA).

5 out of 5 blokes tell pork pies.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Some Hope by Edward St Aubyn


"If the talk cure is our modern religion then narrative fatigue must be its apotheosis"

Pour me another Pimms cup, it is time to settle down for another run in with Patrick Melrose. Leaving behind his entertaining drug fuelled binge days, Patrick is in his thirties and looking for a reason to live post narcotics haze. He's studying to be a lawyer- well he's thinking about it at any rate.
He has also cut back on his habit of replacing drugs with sex. Has the man gone a little too zen and quiet?Fear not, he is on his way to a country party with honoured guests including Princess Margaret - apparently she is rather partial to Venison.
Facing his demons as he returns to the surrounds of his youth, the reader finally gets Some Hope that perhaps Patrick is going to sort his issues out and be okay. It has taken him more than 20 years to admit, out loud, the source of his trials and tribulations. Admittedly the response is a little understated from  his friend, but the reader almost lets out a giant sigh, as if we too have got something really heavy off our chest.
The dramas of the party guests and goings on will have you flying through the pages and tittering like, hmm, what does one titter like? Laughing like a hyena sounds a little too vulgar  - the description of the Barrier Reef certainly made me guffaw.
5 out of 5, to be savoured like a vintage Penfolds Grange.

Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg


"A carnival of death. Step right up and see the voodoo death ceremony!"

If, like me, you love a hard boiled noir detective and/or supernaturally themed novel, the you must drop what you're doing and go out and get yourself a copy of this book. For once, the quotes on the cover deliver on their promises!
This book perfectly marries the seedy underworld of the gumshoe with the seedy underworld, well,  of the underworld. The perfect example of how you should never judge a book by it's really uninspired looking cover, Hjortsberg's novel is a gem.
Apparently the book was adapted as the film Angel Heart, starring Robert De Niro and Mickey Rourke in 1987. I've yet to see the film, so can make no comment as to the accuracy of its adaptation, other than to say I really want to see it now!
A sultry young mambo, a world weary private detective and a quest to find the missing Johnny Favourite-the war wounded crooner, bad dreams, curses, chants, grisly murders and a lot of questions to be answered - even the plot drips with anticipation. Throw in the shadowy figure of Louis Cyphre and you are in for a real page turner. Now which way are those crosses facing and hide your babies!
5 out of 5, those voodoo people sure know how to party.