Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore

"Today's child is growing up absurd, because he lives in two worlds, and neither of them inclines him to grow up"

How to review this one? I'm not really sure. It is perhaps best summarised as a kind of visual poetry accompanied by some interesting commentary. First published in 1967 and revised in 1996, this one has some "bottle age" and yet some of the concepts are still relevant today. The visuals are impressive and it makes for an intriguing time capsule.

4 out of 5 images a go go.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Night by Elie Wiesel

“One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.”

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, for this harrowing account of his time in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, Wiesel's book is as horrific as it is brilliant. There's a tendency sometimes to be overwhelmed by the horrors of war and push them aside in the too hard to deal with basket. This personal account is so immediate, no fifteen year old should have to experience such things and yet he did. What is even more disturbing is the fact that we have such visceral accounts and yet, as a human race, we learn nothing and horrific treatment of other cultures, races and religions carries on even in these times when we think we've progressed.
When our rights are stripped away, when we live in a culture of fear, horrific events become the norm and we revert to animalistic survival mode. That is not the mark of an enlightened, educated, society. That is the stuff of pure nightmare.
Night  is 126 pages of pure nightmare and shows just how quickly civilisation can disappear and an ordinary life full of aspirations can reduce to something inconceivable.

5 out of 5. I don't feel any glib comment is warranted here. This is a reminder that our grip on an ordinary life is a tenuous one, and that there are those who would take it away because they don't realise theat we are all human being first and foremost.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

This Census-Taker by China MiƩville

"That first night alone with my father I sat in the kitchen without hope".

This is a very unusual novella that seems almost cinematic in scope. It begins with vivid movement and  despite its meagre size, the book brings a sense of energy, reminiscent of the child running down the hill -  the tale's opening.
That sense of movement is at the centre of this story's pull and feeds into the reader's sense of unease and confusion. It is rare to experience such a tasty little morsel and it is a rather different one. Go on, grab yourself a copy and see for yourself.

5 out of 5 good things come in small packages.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Last Bar in NYC by Brian Michels

"I might've looked the part when I was hired at the new hot spot and I was plenty capable of handling the same old work but I didn't know a thing about biting my tongue or keeping my dick in my pants."

Firstly, for transparency I will note that I was given a copy of this by the author and I would like to thank him for that. This was just the tonic (gin and tonic?) I needed this week and will undoubtedly appeal to anyone who has a misspent youth and a thirst for vodka. 
Can our protagonist be a bit of a jerk at times? Oh yes, and yet you, dear reader, will enjoy the ride.His personality wavers between extreme cockiness ( of the 'oh yeah, I totally can bang three broads at a time' kind of scenario) - to conflicted  ('oh dear,  should I really be doing this  and does coke make it really all better?') to a guy who starts to get his act and bar together - or does he - read it and find out.
Sometimes the chapters are a little jerky in their transitions and it takes a few pages to re-orientate, however that is only a momentary distraction and problematic only in the sense that you want to know what happens in the interim. The writing is great, there's a real sense of immediacy and you feel that you've been to every dive bar, sports bar, hooker hangout, cramped sleeping quarters and hostile lesbian bar, standing right alongside the narrator.

5 out of 5 cocktails are the answer.


Last Orders By Graham Swift

"When you've been thinking about the dead you notice how the living hurry"

This is one of those very rare occasions where I enjoyed the movie a hell of a lot more than the book. I'm probably doing the book a disservice, to be honest, because I don't think the tale of a group of friends carry their mate's ashes around is the most uplifting material to read when you are in a bit of a funk.

Last Orders  brings a lot of voices to the party, as all the players in Jack Dodds' life reflect on his life, and their own. All the secrets and dramas of life and long term friendships are eventually laid bare while they go about their journey to the seaside with a quick side trip to see a hard to find war memorial up a rather large hill.

Perhaps the work of Helen Mirren ( I do so love her) et al in the film version coloured my appreciation of the source novel. I found it difficult to reconcile the two versions at any rate.
Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood for a book that discusses the minutiae of life - love, war, motorcars, butcher shops, abortions, and trips to Margate, at a time when I prefer my reading to be slightly more escapist in subject matter.

3 out of 5 pints might help.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

The Black Dahlia by James Elroy

 "I remember moving toward him and I remember picking him up two-handed by the neck, wondering how hard you had to squeeze a dog's throat to make its eyeballs pop out."

I used to be a massive fan of film noir and love L.A. Confidential  also based on an Ellroy novel. I have vague recollections of seeing the cinematic rendition of this novel and yet the plot seemed completely new to me as I read the book.Perhaps it was a little forgettable.

Unfortunately, the last few weeks and months have been a little fraught with drama of a non literary variety. That might be one of the reasons why it took me such a long time to finish this novel. Even the opportunity to tick off another 1001 list book wasn't enough to increase my speed of consumption.

Another reason, in these rather sombre times where the horrors of watching people die in a burning building in real time on the television is the new reality, the idea of reading about a violent murder, combined with a tonne of other violent acts and sad loveless couplings just wasn't the kind of thing I was inclined towards. Ellroy's stock in trade is grimy violence and lately, I'm not sure that's what I need.

Is it well crafted? Why, certainly. There were moments, particularly the seedy bars and sweaty boxing matches, where , as  a reader, I felt completely immersed in the tale. There were other times where I felt like perhaps I needed a long, hot, bath and a course of antibiotics.

 3 out of 5 cover ups are murder.

Monday, 19 June 2017

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

“Books’ll be back,” Esther-in-Unalaq predicts. “Wait till the power grids start failing in the 2030s and the datavats get erased. It’s not far away. The future looks a lot like the past.” 

This is a book, I mean, if you threw it at someone it could do serious damage. Don't take that as a critique by any means, I've rather loved the journey through time and lives and unravelling the mystery across its many delightfully written pages.
It is also a gorgeous experience that has got me through a rather crappy vortex of a shit storm that has been my life of late. The weather is clearing, fear not.

Reading this at odd intervals, sometimes a page or two, sometimes a hundred pages, probably added to the confusion of the non-linear story and yet somehow also made me love it even more. I appreciated this escape into another reality where underlying forces are waging war within the bodies of mere mortals without them even knowing. It is a fascinating conceit, potentially extrapolated from the notion of bacteria and/or even particles. My science is iffy - so seriously, don't quote me on that.

Regardless the writing is beautiful and offers delightful morsels of insight on everyday life in between the action. Other readers have fallen in love with Mitchell's Cloud Atlas,  which left me a little cold, despite my love of time travel, or rather, my love of reading about the idea.
I lacked the tenacity to stick with that novel and yet this one I found more approachable. I'm not sure whether that is indicative of greater patience on my part or a different style of writing or a more approachable subject. There is something vampiric about the "villains" of this piece that was always going to draw me in. I don't know why I'm always attracted to that trope and yet who could resist the opportunity of reading up a storm that eternal life would facilitate?

5 out of 5 Holly's journey drew me down the rabbit hole.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Only Dull People Are Brilliant at Breakfast by Oscar Wilde

"Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed."

An absolute delight and how could it not be? A collection of Oscar Wilde's witticisms makes for fifty two pages of curated brilliance. No-one could coin a phrase quite like Wilde and this gorgeous little book clearly illustrates his amazing talent. Oh to be able to travel back in time and hang out with Oscar, or better yet, transport him to the present day where hopefully he'd find an easier life.
I could re-read this over and over again and will no doubt be stealing quotes from it at every possible occasion.

5 out of 5  - "One should always be a little improbable"

Thursday, 8 June 2017

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant

"One floor above Lenny and Colin, Miriam was screaming that she wouldn't get undressed."

So, by now you will no doubt have read that the winner of the Bailey prize has been announced, and here am I still not through the shortlist! The Dark Circle,  did not take out the prize and I'd have to say I definitely preferred The Power and am not surprised that it won. Now to the matter at hand, I have to admit to being a little nervous about reading this particular novel due to the subject matter. Reading the synopsis - a brother and sister being sent to a post war tuberculosis facility in Kent - did not send me running to the bookstore for a copy. Nevertheless, the novel is intriguing and surprisingly drew me in.

The writing seemed a little uneven, much like the plot and while there is much to recommend, ultimately this tale left me a little cold.
I found it difficult to relate to the protagonists and that distanced the story somewhat. What is far more successful is the sense of youth trapped in a cage, as Lenny and Miriam come to grips with their unusual new surrounds, peopled with characters very different to their familiar circles.One of the quotes on the cover makes reference to the great sense of atmosphere and I'd have to agree that Grant's strength is creating a sense of place.

I will be looking forward to see what my reading buddy Nicki thinks of it when I lend it to her.

4 out of 5 patients have patience.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin

"He knew he should do something about them, but knew too, that he never would. That would be someone else's problem -Sammy's probably - after he was gone."

I was fortunate enough to attend the Sydney Writer’s Festival session with Ian Rankin on “Who says crime doesn’t pay”. I’d bought the tickets based on name recognition, and so grabbed his latest paperback at the Airport in Brisbane on my way home, and to the festival. A real page turner, I’d managed to take in three quarters of the novel on my journey and just in time for the session.

While the author today oozes charisma wrapped up in one hell of a fantastic Scottish accent ( think David Tennant’s older brother), this hasn’t always been the case and his self-effacing tales of the struggles of his early writing career were particularly charming. This interview with the abc might give you just a taste of being there.

Back to the book and, Rebus, the  hero of some 21 novels, this being the 21st and frankly I'm hooked. I'm sure it would have been interesting to get on board the band wagon earlier in the series when Rebus was a younger man, and yet his sprung from retirement ex-cop makes for a compelling protagonist. Big scary crooks carrying some serious bottle age still make for an intriguing read and let's not forget that a cold case can still bring the heat.

I'm confident that I've not let you in on any plot points or given the game away, so get yourself a copy and jump into the shadowy Edinburgh underworld.

 5 out of 5 pints would be great if I wasn't gluten intolerant.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi

“Dad taught me to flirt with everyone I met, girls and boys alike, and I came to see charm, rather than courtesy or honesty, or even decency, as the primary social grace.”

Clearly a constant fixture on all the editions of the 1001 books you must read before you die for a reason, Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia is at heart an enjoyable, compelling and often transgressive coming of age tale. The recipient of the 1990 Whitbread Award for the best first novel, it centres on seventeen year old Karim, the offspring of an Indian father and English mother (much like the author), the impact of his father’s affair and his resultant attempts to fashion himself as a kind of guru for hire among the smart set frequented by his new lover, Eva. That serves as the launching pad for twisting side tales that will have you engrossed.

Take for instance, the man you can’t have but everyone wants – Charlie; Karim is smitten. It doesn’t help that Charlie is the son of the woman Karim’s father is romantically involved with. He is far more interested in securing international fame than responding to Karim’s crush.

Karim’s cousin and sometimes bed partner is a rather interesting character. The reader feels her constant struggle to reconcile the world around her and that imposed on her by her father. This leads to a rather disastrous arranged marriage which introduces the reader to the delightfully hopeless Changez. He steals the novel for me as a figure of such sadness and schadenfreude. He might be useless in his father in law’s grocery store but don’t let him loose with a sex toy!

There is quite a bit of sex going on in the book and that’s natural given that it is possibly the central preoccupation for a teenager. Sex is fraught with danger and despair here. It drives a wedge in Karim’s family life. It leads to some often hilarious circumstances  and yet to reduce the story to merely its sexual leanings would do the book a disservice. Growing up is all about questioning everything, where is this going, why do my parents act this way, who am I, what do I want? An endless array of questions and that sense of growing curiosity combined with the self obsession of young adulthood is fantastically captured here.
What is particularly remarkable are the aspects that resonate regardless of one's race, upbringing or circumstances there are central human truths about growing up we can all relate to. That sense of the forbidden, the inexplicable, the precociousness of youth is infectious. Life is a glorious mess and that is something this book so beautifully expresses.

 5 out of 5 people have moments where their parents are a source of embarrassment.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Holding by Graham Norton

"How strange that she could imagine sharing a bed with him again but couldn't envision looking into his eyes and asking him what it was he felt."

I am a massive fan of Graham Norton's talk show and his autobiographical writing to date has been as charming as his interview style. When I heard he had branched out into fiction, I was eager to get myself a copy. This is the perfect read for a cold winter's night. Settle down with a glass of Graham's Wine (I've not tried it, but its from New Zealand so I imagine  it is drinkable) and launch into this touching murder mystery set in a sleepy little corner of county Cork.
When property developers discover human bones on an old farm, the portly Sergeant PJ Collins will have more worries than mere traffic management. Everyone in the village has skeletons in the closet including three spinster sisters, an unhappy wife, a miserable husband, and a mysterious cleaning lady. The characters are completely engaging, a heady mix of angst, lost opportunity and insecurities. Their human frailties gorgeously explored.

Go get yourself a copy or you might end up chucked off the red chair. Thanks for lending me your copy Nicki

5 out of 5 villages can be deadly.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook

"Memory struck at him again - his suitcases, where were they?"

If you've had a few too many, just be glad it wasn't in the badlands of Bundanyabba. Fifties outback Australia runs on beer it would seem, the water in Bundanyabba isn't fit to drink they say. I was in such a good mood after dancing around at a concert of my favourite band,that I managed to read this and watch The Deer Hunter all in one day - a rather dark exercise and probably not an undertaking for a bad mood day. Don't expect something upbeat here, there is an oppressive sense of fear and of being trapped that spills forth from the pages.

Back to my review, for I digress. John Grant is an unassuming school teacher who dislikes to offend anyone and his inability to say no leads him down some dark paths.Losing all his money gambling is just the beginning of his woes. Will he make it out of town to Sydney? Will he make it out alive? Crack open the pages and see why this was voted as one of the top 50 Australian novels by viewers of ABC's Book Club. If you have a weak stomach for animal cruelty you might want to skip the hunting scenes.

5 out of 5 because there's no such thing as a free drink.

Lost Horizon by James Hilton

“The first quarter-century of your life was doubtless lived under the cloud of being too young for things, while the last quarter-century would normally be shadowed by the still darker cloud of being too old for them; and between those two clouds, what small and narrow sunlight illumines a human lifetime!”

So, I chanced upon the 1937 Frank Capra film adaptation of this novel one lazy Saturday at JB Hi Fi and promptly bought it. It sat on my ‘to watch’ pile for quite some time and then utterly charmed me one rainy afternoon. The images are amazing and for its time, the special effects are impressive.

 I wondered whether the source material would be even better (particularly since the current print of the film is missing some sections – they are replaced by production stills and overlaid with the soundtrack) and rushed onto book depository (that site is my lack of savings Achilles heel) to get a copy. If the state of the world leaves you feeling a little despondent, you too may need a trip back in time with some adventurous travels to a mystical place high in the Himalayas. The high lama is a mysterious man, but Shangri-La is a rather, mysterious place. 

Perhaps it is a testament to the Indiana Jones style adventure vibes that this novel gives off that it is still in print. I was particularly intrigued by the gender equality achieved within Shangri-La, given that the novel was published in 1933. Whereas other novels of the time might feature a little casual racism, here the protagonist grimaces at the disregard his travel companions display for their new surrounds and hosts. This can be seen here, when he counters Mallinson's assertion that all peoples of the East are slow to act -

"Yet to Conway it did not appear that the Eastern races were abnormally dilatory, but rather that the Englishmen and Americans charged about the world in a state of continual and rather preposterous  fever heat."

Now I suggest you grab a copy and tell me what you think. If you've watched the film you will note there are some differences between both stories and they can be appreciated independent of each other. Both possess an intriguingly contemplative tone and some days I'd rather be hanging out in the remote reaches of the mystical Shangri-La, head ensconced firmly in one of the many books of its library.

5 out of 5 sherpas are hard to find.