Friday, 31 October 2014

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

"I didn't know how I'd ended up drinking whisky in the lounge of a well-known TV personality when I'd actually left the house to kill myself, and you could tell that JJ and Martin were confused about the evening too."

I was having yet another crappy week at work that was bringing me down, and thought that reading a book on people setting out to commit suicide from a roof was a great, life-affirming idea. Maybe that notion wasn’t as crazy as it sounds now that I’ve committed it to the computer screen.

This novel has been sitting in my ‘to-read’ pile for quite some time now, having bought myself a copy when I heard the film version was coming out. For those who have read this blog for a while you will be all too familiar with my preference to read the source novel before seeing the film adaptation. In any case, I missed its fairly brief run at the cinemas and so had plenty of time on my hands to get to grips with the novel.

In the past, I’ve been a firm advocate of Hornby’s work, thoroughly enjoying the different paths his tales have taken in engaging novels like About a Boy and my favourite, High Fidelity.  This entry into his bibliography fails to reach the heights of those two in my humble opinion. I think, deep down, it felt that none of the characters was really going to kill themselves, there seemed an underlying sense of optimism, and perhaps that isn't such a bad thing. It certainly made the book readable.

There are some poignant moments and aspects which certainly rang true, but I just felt this slightly didn't quite click with me.

4 out of 5 new apartments don't have carpet apparently.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Crystal World by J G Ballard

"Grimacing to herself, Louise took his arm, as if barely convinced of Sander's physical identity in the nexus of uncertainty at Port Matarre."

If you peruse my bookshelf (real or on Goodreads) you will note a disproportionate number of J G Ballard books. Sometimes I query why I love his dystopian nightmares, yet conversely  they just seem so appropriate in today's scary world chock full of horrid wars, terrorism, and the threat of plague (eeew ebola) which pepper the 24 hour news cycle. I also think that Ballard has an economy of words that deliver so much as to be almost poetic, conjuring vivid imagery without an excess of prose  evinced by the size of the novel - under 200 pages.

 Continuing on the Ebola theme, which scares the pants off this reader, it seems particularly apt to delve into a book set in a remote region of Africa where a strange disease is causing chaos, commencing with the discovery of a dead body with a crystallised arm. Dr Sanders ignores impending quarantine to travel up river along with his new acquaintance / lover, Louise. There is something beautiful and at the same time foreshadowing around his depiction:
      "Beside him Louise's white body glittered in a sheath of diamonds, the black surface of the river below spangled like the back of a sleeping snake".

While he might have a new companion, this Doctor is actively seeking out his past, namely Suzanne Clair, who he had previously had an affair with and who has journeyed with her husband to work in a leper hospital in Fort Isabelle. Will he survive his journey into the crystal world? Well you will have to read it to find out. Can I just add how much I love these funky fourth estate covers? That's all.

4 out of 5 sane people would avoid a disease ridden place under military control, regardless of how it sparkled.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

They couldn’t arrest you unless they put a hand on you, and nobody ever managed to touch Dodger.”

It took quite a while for this book to gel with me. Normally I’m a bit of a Pratchett fan; perhaps I was distracted by reading it in snippets here and there. In any case, it wasn’t till around 200 pages in that I really started to develop a fond attachment for Dodger and his shenanigans. Mind you, it is awfully difficult to dislike a novel that has a rather cheeky Charlie Dickens as a character.
The object of Dodger’s affections, Simplicity, is in my view a little too simple and uninspired. She just seems like a thinly veiled plot device without too much to recommend her – rather apt that she takes on the pseudonym ‘Serendipity’ at one stage.
Our hero has some intriguing adventures and almost always saves the day by accident rather than design. His run in with Sweeney Todd the demon barber was particularly amusing, as was his trip to the tailors – loved the matching outfit quandary he finds himself in.
So, somewhere lost in the pages, Terry Pratchett unveiled that token thread of words that binds me in fascination and I was won over by the story. Apparently this isn’t the last we’ve seen of our Dodger either - .

4 out of 5 sewer rats are all tosh.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

To Rise Again At A Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

"I never seriously considered killing myself, but once you have a kid, you take that option off the table."

To begin with, this is a strange, yet compelling novel. Dr Paul O’Rourke’s messed up love life, is almost as tragic as yours truly it would seem and the first few chapters were almost therapeutic but then… well it just gets weird. Our slightly cracked dentist discovers someone has created a whole fake Internet life for him replete with a new company website, twitter and Facebook accounts and his alter-ego is a prolific social media poster. This is from a guy who rarely traverses the internet’s limitless bounds and now, really inconveniently since the current object of his affections is Jewish, this fake Dr O’Rourke seems to be an anti-Semite.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, this is a novel with some really interesting things to say about relationships, the loneliness of the constantly connected society and then so much weirder things to say about Judaism - a topic I don't really feel adequately qualified to comment on. The mysterious ulm and the mysterious Grant Arthur - a whole lot of mysterious for me - I preferred the beginning of the novel.

Paul's habit of becoming "c***-gripped" by the object of his affections was a rather visceral depiction but who hasn't fallen victim to the appeal of a good looking member of the opposite sex and their physical thrall? Thought I'd keep it relatively PG friendly for the masses, I think you can tell what I'm getting at.

4 out of 5 people can surprise you

Friday, 10 October 2014

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

"Chaos I felt I had somehow helped create."

The current tv series Outlander has reignited my interest in the saga of Claire Fraser/Randall and her time travelling exploits and prompting me to invest in and speedily complete book 2 of the series. Was my interest in the writing or just spending more time with Jamie? I posit a little from column a, a little from column b.
Time is all a little bit wibbly, wobbly timey wimey with the beginning of the novel introducing an older Claire and **spoilers** her daughter, heading back on a trip to Scotland.

Claire reveals the truth behind her daughter's conception in flashback mode that takes up the bulk of the novel - thank goodness- more Jamie!

Spying and intrigue in France and Scotland follow - Claire, as usual, gets to utilise her medical knowledge and also her French this time. Is she the wicked witch her enemies believe her to be, will she once again run afoul of her husband's nasty forebear? All will be revealed and before you know if 947 pages have flown by and you'll be eager to devour the next instalment.

5 out of 5 pieces of amber spell trouble - for more information see Jurassic Park.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

How to be both by Ali Smith

"So things far away and close could be held together, in the same picture?"

Well, as you might have guessed from my penchant for lists and prizewinners, I'm working my way through some of the nominees for this year's Man Booker Prize and here we have a novel that's managed to shortlist since the long list mentioned on the cover.
So to the novel in question. Well, its prose is a little difficult to get into at first, meandering in strange patterns that almost resemble poetry.
This is a novel in two parts, in two very different time periods. Indeed even the writing style undergoes a significant shift with the change in stories.
I was somewhat labouring with it to begin with and then it all pulled together quite beautifully and I became enamoured.There was something really interesting about the description of the photograph of the two artists from the sixties that forms the front cover of the book, as if the book itself and thereby the reader looking at it became part of the story. In any case this strange combination of tales from the cross dressing 15th Century artist to a daughter who has lost her mother in the present day.
Take your time, sink into the story and let me know what you thought of it?

4 out of 5 female artists dressing as men might achieve pay equality.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Children of the Night: Classic Vampire Stories selected by David Stuart Davies

"But though it did not, I still shudder at the thought that if I had given in to Sdenka that terrible night, I should myself have become a vampire!"

Well I think this would serve as an interesting introduction to a reader innocent to the history of the vampire novel and its origins. This reader, is however, far from innocent in that regard. Tainted as I am by countless tales of bloodsucking fiends, this collection of short stories and excerpts from vampire classics was a little of a disappointment.
I'm about halfway through more than 800 pages of Varney the Vampire for instance and here only a chapter is provided. Likewise I'd already read Carmilla, Dracula  and The Vampyre. However, if you are curious and haven't explored these classics before, this serves as an easy, if not comprehensive, introduction.

The stories that I hadn't read were interesting, although some were questionably vampiric in nature - something more along the lines of general supernatural fiction.

I haven't much further to add on this one. My love of vampires is always a puzzlement. Are they the ultimate sexual predator? Is their appeal the notion of timeless beauty and unfettered lascivious experience that culminates in a final end? What is it about them that still draws us in as readers? It is something that has remained fascinated for centuries - I mean Polidori's work dates back to 1819, just hanging out with Lord Byron.

I'm giving this a fairly generous mark purely for the everlasting appeal of the children of the night.

3 out of 5 necks might enjoy a bite.