Tuesday 29 November 2011

The Monkey's Raincoat

The Monkey's Raincoat - Robert Crais

Hollywood; sentences with the ends bitten off, sharply; drugs; sleazy producers; desperate actresses; vietnam vets; coffee drinking cops; swimming pools; marble floors; mafiosi; broken fists; broken ribs; broken worse than that; bad jokes; tai chai; yoga; rye bread; kidnapping; women balanced for hair colour and race; studio lots; dead fish and a particularly large Eskimo.

These are only a few of the ingredients in the first Elvis Cole novel and the debt to the master chef of such cuisine, Elmore Leonard, is acknowledged. Elvis reads some of his books, over and over.

Sunday 27 November 2011

The Garden Party

The Garden Party - Katherine Mansfield

Taking my cue from the 1001 Books group on Shelfari I am counting this short story as a book as it is included on the LIST. I am limping towards 400 and reckon I will finish all 1001 if I live to 1001. This post contains SPOILERS so you should jump to this link and read the story first. It's short.

This collection of stories was the last Mansfield published before her early death and death haunts the title story. The preparations for a garden party in a big country house are interrupted by news of the accidental death of a man from the labourer's cottages not far from the gates of the estate.  Virginia Woolf may well have had it in mind when writing Mrs Dalloway.

Saturday 26 November 2011

My Cousin Rachel

My Cousin Rachel - Daphne Du Maurier

My Cousin Rachel's opening, with a dead body swinging on a gibbet, reminded me somewhat of Great Expectations. That the narrator is also an orphan called Philip cemented the connection. In some ways you can look at it as a version of Great Expectations PULPed and reconstituted. It is also unmistakably from the same hand as Rebecca, using a similar structure and setting.

Philip, aged seven (one year older than Pip when he meets Magwitch) has been taken to see the hanged man by his cousin and guardian Ambrose, who feels that it will teach him a lesson. (Let's not go into whether this is an appropriate teaching method for seven year olds. Du Maurier's supposedly inappropriate relationship with her father finds an echo here.)  The body as thing is difficult for Philip to accept but when the connection is made to a person he knew this becomes even more so. "I wished he had not named the man. Up to that moment the body had been a dead thing, without identity. It would come into my dreams, lifeless and horrible. I knew that very well from the first instant I had set my eyes upon the gibbet. Now it would have connexion with reality..." The difference between judging someone you don't know and someone you do will play a major part in the novel.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

The Book of Disquiet

The Book of Disquiet - Fernando Pessoa

Like a miniaturist drawing the most intricate maps of the universe Pessoa uses a tiny canvas to open huge vistas. The trains of thought seem to circle in on themselves but then you suddenly realise he has just been erasing all your preconceptions in preparation for a startlingly original phrase or idea. I didn't find this an easy read and found myself re reading far more than usual but I also found it rewarding. At once strange and familiar, Pessoa's world is one of paradoxes, both apparent and real.

The book was written over a number of years and assembled after Pessoa's death. It is an arrangement of some of the writings he left behind. There are pointers within the text to show that Pessoa had envisaged posthumous readers and didn't intend a direct narrative of any kind. "Through these deliberately unconnected impressions I am the indifferent narrator of my autobiography without events, of my history without a life." These are "the pages which, when put together, will make up my book of random impressions."

Saturday 19 November 2011

More sweet Poesy

Over at the Better than Starbucks group on Shelfari there is a thread for original poetry. I have regaled readers here with some of my efforts inspired by this same thread before and (take cover) I'm about to do it again.

The poetry thread was being unpinned because of lack of new poems being posted and this would lead to it slipping out of sight until reanimated. These were my two responses. The second 'poem' was inspired by the fact that the first 'poem' led to the thread being repinned.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Leon Blum Before His Judges

Léon Blum Before His Judges 
at the Supreme Court of Riom
March 11th and 12th, 1942

I came across this book in a job lot of (largely) history books I bought at auction.  It and some others intrigued me because they were published during the Second World War and told a story of a battleground without guns. It showed how people were politically engaged with the shape their future would take while war was still ongoing.

This is a transcript of the 'trial' for treason of Léon Blum, who was twice head of the French government in the years running up to the outbreak of the war. Ironically, the Vichy government, at the behest of their Nazi masters, were trying him for treason in undermining the production of arms in the run up to the war and contributing to the French defeat. Blum was a lifelong advocate of pacifism and socialism and had overseen the introduction of new labour laws enshrining the idea of the 40 hour week and holiday pay in legislation he had passed as well as nationalising some of the armaments industry.

Broken City People

Here's some great music from an ex-member of The Knocking Shop and some friends.



Tuesday 15 November 2011

By Night in Chile

By Night in Chile - Roberto Bolaño

The titular night is the night during which the priest Father Sebastian Urrutia narrates his feverish memoirs; it is also the darkness that passed over Chile under Pinochet; it also refers to the nightime activities of the Chilean literati and other dark times.

Right from the start Fr Urrutia introduces one of the novels main themes. Urrita immediately follows his declaration of Chilean nationality by letting us know that "My ancestors on my fathers side came from the Basque country, or Euskadi, as it is now called. On my mother's side I hail from the gentle land of France." Throughout the book, he will refer to people of native Chilean descent as 'ugly', while he himself is "noble" looking, a hint that he may not be much of a Chilean.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

All Souls

All Souls - Javier Marías

This is my second book by Marías in the past few months and I will be looking out for more. Different but sharing an interest in translation with my first taste of his writing Bad Nature , this is a variant on the English university novel. Given its name it seemed like an appropriate read for the Halloween season but  has more humour than horror, although horror is not absent.

The main theme of the book is time and the duality of experience. This duality meshes nicely with Marias' interest in translation. We have rivers with more than one name interwoven through the book, physically representing the movement of time and also the subjective nature of naming. The fact that Oxford is a hotbed of agents (and double, and even triple agents) is also mentioned. Everyone is seen to be playing games of deception and those who aren't are seen as suspect.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Bad Vibes

Bad Vibes - Luke Haines

In which Luke Haines turns his life into Auteurian legend with himself cast as a misantrophic Merlin calling down destruction on the party. The acid tongued songwriter was always at the literate end of the music industry (not that that says much) and he carries off this bookwriting thing with some aplomb.

It helps, of course, that I share my year of birth with Mr Haines and so the cultural references are very familiar and the objects of his withering fury are ones I would largely share. (Also he praises Johnathan Richman, Go-Betweens, Momus and Vic Godard among others so is clearly therefore a man of exquisite taste.)

Tuesday 1 November 2011


Neuromancer - William Gibson

This book is credited with the birth of the cyberpunk genre and certainly it now seems very familiar from its many progeny. I never got around to reading this in the eighties so I cannot comment on whether or not I would have felt the shock of the new had I read it then.

The world in which it takes place is largely that of Burroughs meets Blade Runner but with added virtuality. In the afterword to my edition, Gibson credits reading Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, Burroughs' Interzone and hearing The Velvet Underground's 'Banana' album with the inspiration for Neuromancer.