Saturday, 24 February 2018

Nineteen Eighty by David Peace

"I drive back into the centre of Manchester, the place empty and deserted on a wet and bloody Sunday before Christmas, the lights out."

There are some books that you know, when you crack the first page, will give you nightmares. Having explored Peace's other Red Riding novels, I knew exactly what I was in for. Strangely that did not deter me from embarking on this novel about the Yorkshire Ripper.
What is perhaps the most menacing aspect of the novel is not the idea of a serial killer, rather it is an atmosphere where no-one - least of all the police, can be trusted.

The stream of consciousness style of the prose adds to the atmosphere of menace and the sense of being stuck right in the middle of the action. The air is ripe with distrust, disgust and bad behaviour. Each chapter introduced with a strange, paragraph free vomit of prose that contributes to the atmosphere of deranged and unpredictable behaviour. Peace muddies the idea of black and white, good and bad, by providing  a disjointed hodgepodge of grey that has the potential to discolour all.

The nights I was reading this novel. I had to put it aside and read something less troubling, just so I could actually get some sleep. That is the effect all the Red Riding novels have had on me and yet I continued reading them. There is something both repulsive and compelling about them.

4 out of 5 the kind of reading that is disturbing and yet compelling.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Thongs by Alexander Trocchi

"Who knows? Perhaps only such a brutal tribe of men could have produced a woman with such an infinite longing to be a victim."

I think perhaps my discussion of this rather NSFW tale should begin with my herculean efforts to secure a copy. It is currently out of print as far as I can tell. I am a massive fan of reading all the books on a must read list. As such, I'm working my way through quite a number of The Guardian's Top 10 Series. Finally securing and reading this book means I've read everything on Rowan Somervilles' Top 10 of good sex in fiction
When I finally got a copy, I was mortified to think how often I'd searched for the title on my work computer - it is definitely not suitable reading for the workplace, unless you perhaps work in a dungeon or similar. The bad air-conditioning in my office does not make it a dungeon, just in case you were wondering.

The novel begins with the discovery of a strange book that details the story of one Carmenicita de Las Lunas, who began life as Gertrude Gault, daughter of "the human wolf known to all Glasgow as the Razor King". Daddy is not to be trifled with and his strange behaviour in front of his young daughter is the first indication that things might just get weird. Spoiler he has sex in front of his daughter, then gets her to hold his lover down while he brands her with a knife - the mark of the Razor King.

Gertrude is a virgin obsessed with sex, until she discovers that pain might be her thing and boy does she take that to an extreme. She is inducted into a secret society that operates much in the same way as the Church (with Cardinals and such things) and is built around pain. How to critique the story?? Hmm... way too many descriptions of creepy, old, naked men, a fair wallop of violence and weirdness. I'll say one thing, at least it is well written - no horrific savaging of the English language like that shady book that has had way too much press of late (not mentioning any names).

3 out of 5, this one's so grimy I feel like I need a shower.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Rabbit Redux by John Updike

"How sad it was with Harry now, they had become locked rooms to each other, they could hear each other cry but couldn't get in, not just the baby though that was terrible, the most terrible thing ever, but even that had faded, flattened, until it seemed it hadn't been her in that room but an image of her, and she had not been alone, there had been some man in the room with her, he was with her now, not Charlie but containing Charlie, everything you do is done in front of this man and how good to have him made flesh"

Even though there are aspects of the speech used, the technology and the mind set that firmly set this in the past (some of which would be considered quite offensive when viewed through today's eyes), it is the way that Updike so evocatively describes the harsh way ordinary people can hurt each other that makes this a classic. 

Harry is not a likable guy. The first novel proved that. He peaked in high school and then proved a particularly unreliable husband in Rabbit, Run and it is hard to forget the tragic drama of the end of that novel. It permeates here and yet time has passed and Rabbit is now in middle age. His previously downtrodden wife is now getting her own back with Charlie Stavros from the Toyota dealership. Left alone with his young son, Harry seeks escape and meets Jill, a rich, runaway with a tendency to overindulge in drugs. Through Jill he also meets Skeeter an African-American Vietnam Vet on the run from the Law. He takes both in to his house, which (along with his young son, Nelson) makes for an odd foursome. The neighbours are none too happy with the atmosphere of drugs and sex they espy through open windows.

There's a sense that Rabbit has completely lost his way with Janice's betrayal and departure and his new housemates provide a strange form of escapism. The junkie and the would-be cult leader. Things get weird. I don't want to give too much away, needless to say they get very dark, much like the first novel did.

Updike expertly describes the headspace of his characters in relation to sex. He captures the ridiculousness of it, the strange push, and pull, the way it can unite or dehumanise. The marriage breakdowns of Harry and others in the book illustrate the void that occurs when passion dies, that sense of invisibility and the scarred battlefield of bruised egos. The way that an inability to communicate those feelings can fester into pure hatred and destruction. It is that level of insight that propels you through the book, despite the less than appealing characters. The poor behaviour of Nelson's parents is particularly frustrating. That kid goes through a lot - I just wanted to give him a hug.

 5 out of 5 - its the Remix.

Monday, 19 February 2018

The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

"He'd spent too long searching for new kingdoms. He wanted to make one of his own, a magical place, a place like Fillory."

All good things come to an end. As such, I've now completed the trilogy and have only good things to say about my time spent with The Magicians.  Sure it started out as a slightly sexier version of Hogwarts  hi jinks, crossed with a little Narnia  style adventure. Come to think of it, that makes for a winning combination for this over grown child and constant dreamer. I couldn't wait to finish work today and catch the ferry today so that I could escape to its mystical pages. I only had about ten to go and things were getting particularly hectic. As usual with Quentin's adventures, there's an apocalypse always around the corner.

Did I also mention there's a criminal caper of the Ocean's Eleven  variety - well if that was peopled by persons whose skill set was firmly entrenched in the magical sphere. A talking bird can really lead you astray.

I don't want to give too much away. If you've navigated the first two volumes of this series, then the third one is equally charming. Enjoy fantasy lovers, sadly its back to reality for me.

 5 out of 5 - goodbye mystical realm, it has been fun.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

"But nuclear winter was coming, and magic wasn't keeping her warm."

It is time to head back to Filory with Quentin and the gang. Let's face it, current dramas in my world have made a fantasy land seem particularly appealing. Quentin is loving being a High King, but constantly seeking new challenges. Life in your dream land can get a little tedious and its time for a quest or two.
While Quentin is off questing, the story provides a side story and we get some detailed insights into Julia's troubled back story. As you might expect, her story is a dark and troubled one. It turns out that rejection from Brakebills is not the worst thing that has befallen the young witch on her journey to discovering her powers.
Back to the quest and Quentin finds himself back on Earth, queue a trip to Venice, and a number of other interesting places. Will he make it back to Fillory? Will his cushy time come to an end? Get reading.. you'll find out. Such an entertaining read and a delightful distraction from real world events.

5 out of 5 magic keys open unlikely doors.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

“It’s the fate of most Ping-Pong tables in home basements eventually to serve the ends of other, more desperate games.”

Rare is the novel that can make you laugh out loud one minute and hate yourself the next. This is such a novel and it is just as good as all the critics would have you believe. Every family is a bit of a basket case aren’t they? Recognising aspects of my own in this novel was equal parts mortifying, entertaining and sad. It really is no surprise to me that this novel has been so well regarded ( yay another tick on the 1001 novel list) including winning the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction and 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize (thanks Wikipedia).

Albert and Enid Lambert remind me of my parents, particularly in the way Enid espouses judgements on all who will listen and Alfred’s worsening grip on reality. I could see the worst aspects of myself and my brother in the behaviour of their three children, Gary, Denise and Chip. Let's hope my parent's upcoming cruise is not as eventful.

I'm glad I read this when I did. I think I'm the right age. Old enough to have lived and made some interesting mistakes, and young enough to be confused by the notion of ageing and the way it creeps up on you. Sometimes I feel like a bit of a fraud like Denise, trying to be the perfect daughter. Its probably something a lot of people can relate to. Substitute the ping pong table with a pool table and you have my parent's house summed up.

 5 out of 5 -  all families are weird, all relationships are strange.

Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce

The seven-foot-tall devices stood motionless in a half-circle as the light uncovered what lay at their feet, a pile of freshly dead children.”

Kel has made it; finally she is a Lady Knight – as the title suggests. Her first assignment isn’t quite the battle she’d been looking for. Her exceptional organisational skills are put to the test as she’s given command of a massive refugee camp. Don’t let that fool you; don’t think that she has been put out to pasture. Oh No, Kel has plenty of adventure afoot.

There will be deadly killing machine attacks, a mysterious mage who seems impossible to track, not to mention his seven foot tall henchman. Children will be slaughtered, a young orphan boy will be rescued and prove to be an excellent servant, the Scanran War will wage, Animals will take on human traits and Kel will fulfil her destiny as a true Lady Knight. 

Prepare for an adventure behind enemy lines and for most of your unanswered questions to be resolved. You’ll enjoy the drama, the adventure, the camaraderie, the strange creatures and the benefits of griffin feathers. The only drawback here is that this is the last in the series. I will miss you Kelandry, let’s hope your romantic prospects improve.

5 out of 5 - sometimes its hard to be a woman