Monday, 13 June 2011

The In-Betweeners


"Golden Bollocks" talks
football and tragedy
Not everything I read makes it onto the pages of this blog. Indeed, of some books it pains me to say I may well be slightly embarrassed to admit having read them, being slightly superior and a somewhat jaded critic of the popular milieu. However, what sort of chronicler of intertextual flow would I be if I were to omit those texts that fill the void between the titles carefully chosen by me to illustrate what an esoteric and highly educated reader I am?

Therefore, I've chosen to humble myself by exposing those little items of brain candy that I occassionally treat myself to, behind closed doors of course. Those shavings of Occam's Razor I call, The In-Betweeners.

For those of you who don't want to know the scores, look away now. Equally, for those who don't give a monkeys about football, you may avert your gaze for a paragraph.
Kenny Dalglish snuck in between Portis and Hunt by virtue of the fact that if I hadn't read it now, it would have become one of those irritating books, written by the living about a period of time yet to have ended, that is out-of-date before I got around to reading it. Indeed, I suspect the paperback edition is going to have a whole lot of guff about contract negotiations and summer transfer targets missed and hit and likely other such nonsense as to render the book more unreadable than Dalglish's swaying narrative has already done. Nonetheless, for a footballer's biography, it's not as bad as, say, Ashley Cole's or, God forbid, Rio Ferdinand's. And, as a collector of rather tawdry Liverpool biographies, it would have been a betrayal of the club and the ethos to have not bought and read this. Okay, you can come back now.
More Travis McGee (#5 I think)
from master MacDonald

Travis McGee is John D MacDonald's knight-errant. A sun-browned boat bum, living on the proceeds of his sporadic employment aboard the Busted Flush, a boat won during a poker game and moored permanently in the Florida Keys, McGee takes "jobs" when his funds run low, or in this case, when his friends get themselves killed. He takes 50% of that recovered and lives for another summer in idleness and forgetting. Lots of great dialogue, some rather wobbly but noble eviceration of the soul, and action all over the shop characterise the series (21 volumes no less) and all thrills are delivered without graphic sex scenes (all done with suggestion - and there's lots of suggestion) or resorting to the shock of foul language. MacDonald is a champ of pulp fiction, and rumour has it that Oliver Stone and portly Leo Di are working on a big screen portrayal! Fame at last.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Over the years I've been repeatedly seduced by the anthropomorphic in literature, from Aesop, and the tales of trickster Br'er Rabbit, to Peter Hoeg's enigmatic ape and Darren King's Jim Giraffe. So, of course, Hunt's literal and physical depiction of Churchillian depression was always going to tickle the membranes until I gave in and gave it a crack. It tickled for some time, but I did cave and was, eventually, glad I did.

To start with, what's-her-face (oh dear! Without the book to hand I can't remember the character's name - an inauspicious beginning I fear, and one that might dampen any praise henceforth given) is so insipid that I hoped she might at least develop some asinine traits so as to become a target of derision. The initial meeting with the black dog, come to rent her spare room, was painful to read and I almost skipped two chapters to get to the next bit in which Churchill appeared. However, she rallies (Esther! I remember now, but have only the faintest recollection of a particularly pointless and somewhat Slavic surname...) and finds her feet and her voice in the text, and of course becomes integral to the twin narratives. Churchill on the other hand is pretty near flawless, but then Hunt has the vast reserves of public record in which to wallow whilst sucking the pertinent meat from the bones of reportage and biography.


Jim's breath smells
of tree-tops...
So, on to Mr Chartwell, the dog who borrows his name from Churchill's own house. In fact, so it transpires, that's a joke, as he reveals he prefers Black Pat as a moniker and the former name dies along with my fading interest.

A pause here, as I suspect I'm moving away from the field of praise and am instead stomping about in the filthy puddles of derision that dot my mental landscape. A breath, and we'll move on to the good bits. And there are some, I promise!

Switching back and forth from Esther to Churchill swings a pensive narrative around a good few potential sticking points, and pace-wise, it moves as it need move. I felt I wanted to read on, even when the language got a bit Gothic and a little gummy in places. Black Pat's rather voluptuous presence was overwhelming in parts but I suspect that his intrusion in the reader's consciousness was deliberate and his undeniably vulgar existence a trope used for emphasis. In fact, and perhaps this is a lesson to be learned for those whose existence is blighted by depression, I kinda liked him.

In all I feel more positive about this book than negative, and have already recommended it to one or two erstwhile colleagues. It's not shiny and exciting, but then neither is depression, nor was Churchill, despite his entertaining and lucid verbosity. If you get the chance to grab a copy on the cheap, do it and you'll appreciate a quiet, enveloping novel with some hints of genuine latent talent.