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Books of Note

The Little Town Where Time Stood Still by Bohumil Hrabal

Having finished within days of each other the two svelte novels Closely Observed Trains and Too Loud A Solitude, two novels which take up positions one and two on my list of favourite European novels of all time, I quickly resolved to pepper the next few months with more Hrabalobština and I purchased with intent to binge I Served The King Of England (superb!), Dancing Lessons For The Advanced in Age, and In-House Weddings, along with this double-header of stand-alone but linked novellas. For whatever reason, twelve years passed between the first of this short list and this last book.

Twelve years!

I find it difficult to describe, but much like when I think about the mid-Western novels of Percival Everett, or more recently the two Laird Hunt books Indiana, Indiana and Kind One, I experience a creeping horror and fascination born of a complete disconnect between myself and the characters of the novel, and am subject to a squally sense of pathos which can at any moment send my mood off int…
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Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon

Consider if you will that the world was still recovering from what was to them then the Great War, the single most pointless and bloody conflict that man had ever seen. 16 million lives, both combatant and civilian, were lost, and families were indelibly marked for generations to come. So, if, at first, Stapledon's cosmological novel seems a little naive, or rather ridiculous, particularly with his predictions for the immediate political future of Europe, you might forgive him. He was, so I'm told, a committed Marxist and could see nothing good coming from the consumerist capitalism of America and its influence on the old world. In the foreword, Gregory Benford mentions that the unforgiving might like to skip to part five, so as to miss those parts to which one might take offence with the benefit of so stark a hindsight. Part five is where humans are almost totally killed off, for the first time of many.

For this book (novel would seem an odd description given it has no central…

And The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

Someone told me this novel, now nearly thirty years old (holy crap), Nick Cave's first and, possibly, his best, began life as a screenplay when he was still touring with The Birthday Present. That seems equally plausible and implausible. It is a wildly cinematic novel, narrated in flashback by the hermetic mute boy Euchrid Eucrow, who slithered into the world as one of a pair of damaged twins, the only one who survives the neglect of their first day on earth, and is vividly, viscerally visual. But it's also complicated, wildly imaginative, and at heart, finds a safer and more permanent berth in the gently revered world of literature than in the ever-changing and perfidious zeitgeist of cinema.

The story goes that Euchrid, after throwing himself into a bog into which he slowly sinks as he narrates his tale (to whom? and how?), was born, mute and unloved, into a truly Southern Gothic existence, mother a moonshine drunk, father a mean, bitter animal trapper, his community a severe…

Erasmus Hobart and the Golden Arrow by Andrew Fish

It's hard and perhaps ungrateful to be critical of a book for which I paid nothing. It's also hard to work up the enthusiasm to read it. However, I was looking guiltily back through my e-reader library at all the wonderful free classic books I'd never read, not really fancying Aritsotle's Poetics or Beyond Good and Evil, when I remembered this.

And it was nothing like I'd imagined.

For some reason, the word golden had conjured some kind of mathematical construct, perhaps an unconscious association with Fibonacci, and I was sort-of expecting some kind of Beautiful Mind pastiche. What I got instead was a poor man's Doctor Who episode, without any of the BBC NOW-orchestrated dramatic tension, and a dim-watted lightbulb of an idea given life by a self-confessed fan of the author of The Meaning of Liff. I can't say it warrants a mention in the same sentence.

Alright, there are moments of snigger-worthy comedy, I seem to remember (but can find no evidence thereof cu…

UnAmerican Activities by James Miller

I don't think I was asked to honour the old convention that a freebie necessitates an honest if gently favourable review (at least I can find no written proof). I will however, name-check the generous (and possibly over-optimistic) @TheWorkshyFop, editorial director of the independent British publisher, Dodo Ink, from whose proof boxes of new November lead titles this one arrived. Thank you, sir!
I recall James Miller, specifically Lost Boys, from the dim and distant past. It may have been a commission for Waterstones Books Quarterly, or perhaps I was doing a solid for the Little, Brown sales rep. Regardless, I remember nothing about the book except being underwhelmed. From reading old reviews, it seems it had the coat-tails of the contemporaneous zeitgeist in its teeth, but one slightly savage Guardian review* points out it was pretty badly done. This might explain why I remember very little, perhaps proving Auden's assertion that, "some books are undeservedly forgotten; …

Hannah Green And Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith

I was sold this book by Simon at the Big Green Bookshop in return for the money it cost plus a small donation towards operating costs and postage. 

In truth, I'd forgotten it was on its way, and it was a fucking lovely surprise when it arrived at my desk in work, my letterbox at the time being a tad short on width and breadth and unlikely to admit a hardback plus packaging. I recall very much enjoying reading Michael Marshall Smith, and I also enjoyed re-reading him, recently, and I documented this here, here and here. This was a book for which I hadn't realised I'd been waiting for a long time. 

However, had I not the history and warm, cosy feelings safely tucked up in the nostalgia bank, I would probably not have picked this up, going solely on the cover. There's a clock, the silhouette of a small girl, and leaves, along with a colour contrast and meandering font which brought to mind something cringe-worthily reminiscent of Alexander McCall-Smith*, or the covers of Sc…

Very Good, Jeeves! by P. G. Wodehouse

Sincerest apologies, if apologies are due, for the delay resulting from my recent indolence, itself in no small part due to the very trying nature of moving oneself and one's entire life from the capital city (of Wales) to an outlying yet nearby enclave of middle-middle class respectfulness.

In short, I've moved to Penarth.

The Vale! Glory be etc. Frankly, it was that or suffer cross-city commutes four times a day, up to four days per week, at peak traffic, to fetch or deposit the boy at his new educational institution.

So, I've been busy and I've been tired.

Not too tired for Wodehouse, however–just too tired to put finger to keyboard. This collection of 11 curt but classic tales of Bertie's travails and the seemingly unerring instinct of his man, Jeeves, is peak Wodehouse. The short form leaves no great room for a long-winded run-up, and plays a straight bat (with a tongue winkingly in cheek) down wicket right into the reader's grateful hands, fairly cutting to t…