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Books of Note

Apochryphal Tales by Karel Čapek

Many (many) years ago, when I first read War With The Newts, after scouring the Waterstones' internal database (whimsically named Ibid, and from which one could print the details of books onto the till roll in light- and so it seems, time-sensitive purple ink which, on the inches thick ream of leaves I printed for future perusal, faded within a few months rendering my catalogued wish list so much locker mulch) for authors with a suitably Czech-sounding name, having put away an entrée of my first slim Hrabal, a palate-cleansing Kundera and in need of a meaty Moravian main course, I think I might have completely and totally missed just how funny it was, bloated as I was by the doughy and Victorian-sounding translation and the rather unlikely ideation of the future political terroir of mankind and their unusual amphibian slaves and, latterly, sappers, the newts.

How's that for a sentence David Foster Wallace? INTERROBANG.

Well, there's no chance that Čapek's typically Czech…
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Free Fall In Crimson by John D. MacDonald

Trav is back, still grieving the loss of some chickadee or other whose death almost knocked him off his game, but not too shook up to set himself up with a few more lucky lovelies whilst tripping his way through another overly complicated and rather sordidly underwhelming plot. This time, some bikers are making dirty movies with minors on the set of a future classic hot-air-balloon movie. Travis falls into the action because a rich old geyser carks it in unusual circumstances and it affects the trust fund of a former marina-mate. And hirsute intellectual Meyer wets his pants towards the end. 

You may sense a fatigued, sardonic note in my precis. It's not that I don't still love John D., it's just that after embarking on the long game that is reading the entire Travis McGee oeuvre, I'm approaching the end and it feels long overdue. It's been fun, it's been enlightening, but it's also been a schlep. With the realisation I might now have fewer years left to me …

Kind One by Laird Hunt

As a fan of Laird Hunt, I perhaps should have seen the misdirection coming. The tagline on the front cover, "An Unforgettable Tale of Slavery in the American South," and the first paragraph, a dreamlike reminiscence of bed-time tales after working in the fields (I presumed cotton fields although admit in retrospect it was as likely a regular agricultural affair), set me off on the expectation of a tale of Colour and the unfortunate plight of a stooped and wise matriarch in the employ of a wicked plantation owner. Or something similar. 

Instead, something else. Instead, a vignette of the loss of a daughter in a freshly dug well. Instead, no-one mentions the colour of anyone's skin until the dénouement, the chapters where a mulatto boy goes in search of the mother who died giving birth to him. Instead, we have a tale of domestic slavery, of the abuse of a man of his child-wife, and of the daughters he had by another woman, a man who was intent on marrying his cousin until h…

Fup by Jim Dodge

If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.

We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …

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…