Friday 29 April 2011

Pedro Páramo

Imaginary cover from here
Pedro Páramo - Juan Rulfo
(Translated by Lysander Kemp)

"Noises. Voices. Murmurs. Faraway songs."

I first came across the name of Rulfo amoung many other Mexican writers in Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives. I had no idea what to expect but the cover looked interesting and the excerpt on the back saying that Rulfo "views history as a tragic circus in which evil impresarios betray clowns by making them believe in their own masquerade" was intriguing.

And this is a strange and intriguing book. On one level this is the story of an immoral, Macchievellian ranch owner which could form the basis for a Sergio Leone film. On another it is a Mexican The Waste Land, with a vertiginous chorus from beyond the grave whispering parts of their stories into our ears as the wind blows the dust through the empty landscape or the rain turns the dust into mud.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

The Radetzky March

The Radetzky March - Joseph Roth
(translated by Michael Hofmann)

Early on in this book  reading is discussed. - "Then he took his booklist out of his pocket, and handed it to his father. 'Some solid reading matter there!' said the District Commissioner. 'Now. Tell me the plot of Zriny!' Carl Joseph gave a résumé, act by act. Then he sat down, tired, pale, his tongue parched." At times this blog's demand that I report on each book can start to resemble a sort of formal grilling. It is somehow harder when the book is richer and broader and seems to demand a response that does it justice.

This has probably been the highlight of my reading year so far. It is a magnificent book. It manages to combine in it's pages broad comedy (Carry on Hapsburgs) with individual heartbreak, history, philosophy and the ache of centuries.

Tuesday 19 April 2011


X-Ray by Ray Davies

Kronikles of a Kink

This is a genuine oddity - rock autobiography as metafiction. Rather than give us a straightforward memoir (never really on the cards) Davies talks to us through a fictional nineteen year old orphan who has been brought up to be a faceless mediocrity by the all powerful Corporation and has now been told to "document the life and times of one Raymond Douglas Davies, who was a composer and the lead singer of the Kinks, one of the leading beat groups of that era*." (*the sixties)

A series of interviews then take place in "the legendary Konk studio" "festooned in cobwebs and dust." MetaDavies waits in the gloom and one of the first things he says is that "There is no time here. No future nor past."

Saturday 16 April 2011

The Wrong Kind of Blood

The Wrong Kind of Blood - Declan Hughes

Declan Hughes' name will always have a resonance for me because of the experience of seeing his play Digging for Fire. I still remember the strong feeling that I had during the play that I could get out of my seat and simply stroll onto the stage and belong there. These were my peers, talking like we talked and with the same references we shared. Drink, Emigration, AIDS, The Pixies and a sensibility that seemed to be perfectly realised.

When I saw his name on the cover of a crime novel I was intrigued enough to buy it and finally (it's been there a while amoung the hundreds of unread refugees from charity shop bookshelves) I got around to reading it.

Tuesday 12 April 2011


Deliverance - James Dickey

Four men set off for some white water rafting and a spot of illegal hunting in a 'wild' landscape of hills and a river that is due to be covered by damned water in the near future. (That's water held back by a large concrete edifice and not H2O from Hell).

The journey is planned over steins of beer and main instigator Lewis sells it to the other three as an opportunity to have a 'real' experience before 'the real estate people get hold of it and make it into one of their heavens.'

Lewis is someone who "tries by any means - weight lifting, diet, exercise, self-help manuals from taxidermy to modern art - to hold on to his body and mind and improve them, to rise above time.' The narrator, Ed, has accompanied him through many of these interests and admires him although he can see that he holds a type of death wish. He too seems concerned with the onset of middle age, and unsatisfied with his relatively successful city life and marriage.

Thursday 7 April 2011


Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

This book famously begins with the account of a dream. Another dream features at the end. Indeed the whole book inhabits a dreamscape charged with the emotions of the nameless narrator.  Indeed at times it seems as if the narrator is being annihilated by the powerful emotions raging around her.
The novel opens with that famous first line "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." On one level this tumbles us into the story and as it progresses we are always trying to catch up to that initial moment and all that is implied within it. Why is it that it is now only in her dreams that the narrator goes to Manderley? And Du Maurier goes further, telling us us more and more of what is to come in the opening salvo of this novel as the first two chapters set in the NOW of the narrator prefigure the events that we have yet to hear in our journey into her past.

Saturday 2 April 2011


Home - Marilynne Robinson

This book reminds me of the stealth of dandelions, when the breeze catches them and the air is suddenly filled with their wafting seeds, catching the light like miniature suns. Gentle yet devastating.

Home is Marilyne Robinson's third novel. I have been a fan of her first novel, Housekeeping for many years but only recently found out that she had written not one but two more recent novels after a gap of twenty years. Housekeeping (1984), Gilead (2004) and Home (2008). Gilead and Home are companion novels both set in the town of Gilead and recounting the same events from different viewpoints. Having read Home I will now be looking out for a copy of Gilead and may actually have to stray outside the shelves of charity shops because I can't wait.