Monday, April 14, 2014

Death of the Heart

Death of the Heart - Elizabeth Bowen

This has been on my TBR list for a long time. I was finally encouraged to pull it from my shelves by a list by author Yiyun Li of five books that she rereads.  It seems to me to be a masterpiece, an essential book. I have read The Last September and thought it great but this is even better. At times the writing is exhilarating in its cumulative virtuosity, even when the insights are speculative and eccentric. Or maybe because they are eccentric and speculative.

The book tells of a period of time in the life of the orphaned Portia Quayne,  a sixteen year old girl who is staying with her half-brother Thomas and his wife Anna, who have no children of their own and little time or sympathy for Portia. Portia was born when Thomas and Portia's father had an affair which brought an end to his marriage, after which he and Portia's mother lived in a succession of second rate accommodations around Europe. Thomas remembers her as a young girl who "stared at him like a kitten that expects to be drowned." It was their father's deathbed request that Thomas take Portia for a year. They feel that it would be bad form not to accede to a dying man's wish.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Top 102 Albums Minus 14 - Fire of Love

Top 102 Albums Minus 14
Fire of Love - The Gun Club
"I'm going to buy me a graveyard all of my own
and kill everyone who ever did me harm"

Hank Williams staggered from the bar onto the dusty highway. StEaling an aXe from John Henry he chopped down electricity poles and JACKed up on electro convulsive blues, as a WOLF drove past in a tattered limousine HOWLING some artery rippinG pUNk yarn discovered rotting in a bootleggers shack by Harry Smith .

Stripped back, shredded roCk that stands beside bands Like The Stooges, The Birthday Party, Einstürzende NeUBauten in the intensity of its exorcistic orgies.

Friday, April 4, 2014

How's the Pain?

How's the Pain? - Pascal Garnier
(Translated by Emily Boyce)

"In which part of Africa was it that people greeted each other every morning with the question "How's the pain?" Simon could no longer remember."

I was inspired to read this by a list of favourite noir books selected by John Banville, and it was not a disappointment. It has many of the reflexes of a genre novel but is also a humdrum existential meditation on death.

An older man, Simon arrives at Val-les-Bains, a spa town in rural France. He strikes up a conversation with Bernard, a simple young man and invites him out for dinner. He then offers him a job driving him to a seaside town and back. He offers good money. There has to be more to it than first appears and, of course, there is.

Indeed we know that it will end with Simon hanging himself and leaving everything to Bernard. For we begin at the end, the first short chapter being Simon's preparing to hang himself in his hotel room. And the second chapter lets us know that Bernard will assist him.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Antwerp - Roberto Bolaño
"reality seems to me like a swarm of stray sentences"

I started jotting down notes towards a coherent post on Antwerp but it seemed easier more in keeping with the spirit of the novel to leave them as simply notes towards a blog post.

Antwerp is the first known novel written by Bolaño. It was written around 1980 but not published until just before his death. It is short and experimental, with atmosphere and effect more than plot and character the driving force. It is closer in spirit to poetry than prose and perhaps marks the major staging post between both poles of Bolaño's writing.

The gun was only a word.”
Chekov, famously, said something about having to use a gun, if you introduce it. Bolaño seems to be saying that you don't.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Martin Beck 1 & 2 - Roseanna / The Man Who Went Up In Smoke

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, who have left their stamp on Scandinavian writing.
Martin Beck 1 & 2 - Roseanna & The Man Who Went Up In Smoke - Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö

Here, or elsewhere I made the statement that I'd immerse myself in crime for a portion of the year. I thought that reading a ten book series would be a good way to make good on that promise. Unfortunately I still have to find book three, four and ten so for the now I'll write up some thoughts on the first two books in the Martin Beck series, often blamed for the wave of Nordic noir that has descended upon us over the last number of years.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Not to Disturb

Not to Disturb - Muriel Spark

"'Their life,' says Lister, 'a general mist of error. Their death, a hideous storm of terror - I quote from The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster, an English dramatist of old.'"

This short novella is from the early seventies and is similar in style to The Hothouse by the East River, which I read and wrote about a few years ago. It is a spectral book, with elements of a play, and of a film script, only ninety one pages long and telling a story of murder and suicide in a locked room, mostly from the outside. And not alone are we outside the room but we also seem in some way to be outside time.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Bilgewater - Jane Gardam
"My mother died when I was born which makes me sound princess-like and rather quaint."

I was inspired to read something by Jane Gardam by her inclusion on the shortlist for the Folio Prize. I had picked this one up at some point in a charity shop and so decided to pull it from the shelves. It was initially published as a children's book but was subsequently published for us adults as well.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dissident Gardens

Dissident Gardens - Jonathan Lethem

I felt strangely ambivalent about this book while reading it, initial trepidation turning into admiration but always tempered by a feeling that the book had arisen from the unholy union of a host of Sunday Magazine articles and an accessible, hip course of lectures on Critical Theory. It seems almost unbearably bourgeoise, an Upper Middle Class embrace of sexual, racial and political dissidents and sympathy for their tragic fates.

It is a book full of characteristics but without really convincing characters, full of speech but devoid of a voice. Not that I find these insurmountable problems, many books are brilliantly fake, but it feels at times like this book aims to be either realist family saga and metafictional gloss on family sagas but falls a little between the stools.  However, despite these failings there is still much to enjoy here.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Top 102 Albums Minus 13 - No Other

Top 102 Albums Minus 13
No Other - Gene Clark
"Some streets are easy
While some are cruel
Could these be reasons
Why man is Life's Greatest Fool"

Gene Clark was a founder member of The Byrds and wrote their signature song Eight Miles High. That's enough to assure a place in the Hall of Fame, I guess.

By the time he got around to recording No Other he had left the Byrds, recorded a solo album, rejoined The Byrds for three weeks, recorded more solo albums and rejoined The Byrds a second time only for the band to break up after releasing the album Byrds.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


Today you can find me doing a guest post on my selected CULT CLASSIC over in the ever harmonious residence of

the (new) vinyl villain

Please drop over and check it out.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

30 Odd Years

30 Odd Years - Vic Godard
(Gnu Inc, 2014)
"Don't want to sing rock and roll" - Don't Split It

My intention was to kick my favourite albums thread back to life but I thought that I should write about what I'm listening to at the moment and what I'm listening to is this new compilation of the work of the great Vic Godard.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Silent Cry

The Silent Cry - Kenzaburo Õe
(Translated by John Bester)

""I seem to be surrounded by the odour of death," I said.
"If that's so, Mitsu, then shake yourself free and climb up into the world of the living again. Otherwise the odour will rub off on you.""

I'm currently reading and blogging more slowly than at any point over the last couple of years and that is why this January in Japan read is only making it here almost half way through February.  However, quality trumps quantity and to have read this one novel trumps reading four or five merely good novels as this is a great novel, one that will leave images stuck in my cerebellum until death (or it's John the Baptist like precursor, senility) wipes my synapses clean.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Month of Sci-Fi

A Month of Sci-Fi

Roadside Picnic - Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (1971)
Childhood's End - Arthur C.Clarke (1953)
Foundation - Isaac Asimov (1951)
Hyperion - Dan Simmons (1989)
Dune - Frank Herbert (1965)

For some reason I have spent the last few weeks on a strict diet of science-fiction. Perhaps it was the aftershock of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. I went through quite a bit of sci-fi in my teens, and return to it every now and again. Indeed a few of my Top 100 are sci-fi. (Riddley Walker, Cities of the Red Night, War with the Newts, A Scanner Darkly, the Day of the Triffids ... ) However I haven't read a lot of the classic sci-fi books and thought I might try to plug at least a few of those gaps. Recently I had found the Dune and Foundation novels in a charity shop and I have a few shelves full of sci-fi so thought I'd pick a couple from there as well.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014



Looking back, I've had a pretty good hit rate with 2013's books, even if I didn't manage to read at a particularly fast rate. I always think comparing books is invidious but it is interesting to see which ones pop out from the year's reading. Goodreads allows you to print out your books read for the year which is a handy little gimmick and responsible for the image above. It is also helping me to write this review.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing - Eimear McBride
[The Vapour Trails Book of the Year 2013]

"I know. The thing wrong. It's a. It is called. Nosebleeds, head aches. Where you can't hold. Fall mugs and dinner plates she says clear up. Ah young she says give the child a break. Fall off swings. Can't or. Grip well. Slipping in the muck. Bang your. Poor head wrapped up white and the blood come through. She feel the sick of that. Little boy head. Shush."

The quote above is a full paragraph from the first page of one of my books of the year. Like a mash up of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Boy and The Country Girls written by Kathy Acker this is an intense, dark and stylistically exhilarating book.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Poems (not even a) Penyeach

Poems (not even a) Penyeach

An easy way to keep the blog ticking over as I struggle to finish any further reviews? Here's more of my verse.

This one is from a year ago and I had forgotten it completely.  I always tend to like pieces I've completely forgotten when I first find them again.

I rise in my cloak
of ache and my mist
of drowsiness
and mumble through
the stumble step time
washing last nights supper dishes
scraping scraps for the dogs
into a plastic box
cloudy like the winter sky
until the warmth of tea
melts my early mood
and I rise again
to a serenade in marmalade
and the sun
like a yolk haloed in albumen
spills like life
through the window
and stirs me deeply

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The (Grey) Blades

The (Grey) Blades

On Friday the 13th, last Friday, I attended a gig.  I hadn't seen the band in question play a gig since 1986, indeed no-one had. I hadn't been as excited about a gig for many years. At the time they were 'current' I saw them a few times, once in a small room in O'Sheas hotel in Bray and finally in the fading splendour of The Olympic Ballroom in Dublin, playing their last ever gig. I often wished I had taken more opportunities to see them - some things get taken for granted. No danger of that now. The band were The Blades, and when I wrote THIS earlier in the year I had little idea or hope of ever seeing them play again, let alone with such passion and power and to such an ecstatic reception.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Day of the Ram

Day of the Ram - William Campbell Gault

They say that you should never judge a book by its cover but this one jumped off the shelf. The design seemed somewhere between seventies independent film and classic Penguin, nods I guess to the book's fifties genesis and the reissue date in the seventies.

It seemed likely to give what it says on the can, a slice of pure genre P.I. crime. And it did. This one was short and, if not sweet, muscular and direct, both in terms of the writing and the  main character.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Reivers

The Reivers - William Faulkner

"..Fortune is a fickle jade, who never withholds but gives, either good or bad: more of the former than you ever believe (perhaps with justice) that you deserve; more of the latter than you can handle."

A couple of years back I was thinking about authors that I hadn't read and the two names that were top of my list were Proust and Faulkner. Last year I filled the Proust sized gap and finally I have started on Faulkner.

I was, I guess primed for difficulty and was highly surprised to find myself in a romp with strong echoes of Mark Twain. This was Faulkner's last book, published a mere month before his death and it is told from the point of view of an old man. However, it is not a lament for life passed but a coming of age tale about how his eleven year old self gets caught up in a madcap adventure involving a 'borrowed' car, a stolen racehorse and sardines. And much else besides.