Friday, 6 January 2012

Competition time at Metaliterature


In a fit of boredom, I have decided to launch the inaugural Metaliterature Bespoke Review Competition here at Metaliterature! One (or more - I haven't decided yet) lucky person(s) will get a specially written and personalized review of a typically great book. Fancy your chances of winning? Then here's what you do:

1) Look at these stunning photos of a few randomly chosen bookshelves in my house (if you can't read the titles, get some glasses you myopic curmudgeon, or simply click for an enlarged view)
2) Pick ONE book from the literally tens of great titles
3) Go to Twitter and follow @themightybuch and let him know which you choose

The winner(s) will be picked at random, and I will then write that lucky person a personalized and thoroughly entertaining review of their chosen title.

"Fuck me, that sounds brilliant!" I hear you say. Don't be a tit. Still, it'll while away a tedious afternoon for me. All that's left is for you to get in touch! Don't be shy now. Ah go on. Go on etc etc.

Disclaimer: I do not promise to have actually read any of these books and will certainly not do so if you pick such a book. All reviews are to be published on this blog and relentlessly plugged until read by at least two different people, after which they will be gently steamed and served with black rice and edamame beans.

































Sadly, for those just finding this most excellent competition, it is now closed. In fact, it may never have opened in the first place, such was the interest (or lack thereof) shown in the prize.
GBD 8th October 2012

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Backlist and backlist and backlist again

There was a guy I saw buying Garbage Man by D'Lacey and I quizzed him about this book, D'Lacey's first. He said it was so good he bought another copy so he could leave it on a train and someone else might pick it up and read it too. I was intrigued, as this wasn't the kind of guy who looked like he usually bought Stephen King, or smelled like he bought Poppy Z. Brite. And yet it's with something of a sigh of annoyance that, having taken his recommendation and read through this, that I find it falls somewhere in between, where the lay person, usually disdainful of the genre, might be tempted to sully their hands with something gruesome and gory. I guess I expected the exceptional, and what I got was only pretty good. The premise, having been emblazoned across the front cover in true lowest common denominator style by schlock publishers Bloody Books, is that there's something rotten in small town wherever. The fact that small town wherever is in the centre of a post-apocalyptic wasteland is something that could have been explored a little more, but such is life, and on with the story! What's rotten is meat - the inhabitants are dependent on it, and in it lies the powers to control the populace. The twist, pretty clear almost from the outset, is that, as the cover tells us, "You are what you eat", and friendly neighbours are happily (perhaps obliviously, but certainly not all of them) chewing through cuts of the freshest homo-sapien. There is a further twist towards the end which I'll graciously acknowledge did sneak up on me, but all in all, the book relies heavily on butchery and debauchery for its shock value - why let cannibalism run free when you can add sex and they can have a party?Anyway, snobbery aside this is pretty decent for what it is. I did have to stop eating for a bit when he starts in on the slaughter at first, but as a product of a liberal upbringing there's little that has the power to upset my less than delicate sensibilities for long, and I was soon happily reading whilst munching a ham sandwich. D'Lacey is a little guilty of telling the reader how to feel in parts, but otherwise, not even slightly ludicrous gaps in the narrative were sufficient to derail his momentum, and the book does drive forwards with the inevitable velocity of a slaughter house conveyor belt. Not for the squeamish, but then having seen the cover, you pretty much know what comes next.

Within the body of work that Hrabal produced in the Moravian's life (ended tragically when he fell out of a fifth floor window whilst feeding some pigeons), Dancing Lessons... is more like one of the stories that Hrabal told whilst holding forth at his favourite watering hole, than his "hyper-realistic" novels like Closely Observed Trains. In style, it is one very very long sentence that surges forth like the source of an experiential river carving a valley through the life of a small town, through the eyes of its cobbler, a bawdy, burlesque character so typical of the "wise fools" with which Hrabal populated his novels. And in a sense, this choice of style could be its undoing. It's challenging to read, quickly mutating from its original theme like a stymied version of Joyce's stream of consciousness, or like a very drunk person digressing during a particularly involved history. In truth, there are several points where the sentence has actually ended but for the punctuation to signify such a stop. But this doesn't stop the novella from being a superbly entertaining and endearing piece of fiction, and a showcase for the talents of the man who in my opinion tops Kundera and Kapek as the Czech Republic's greatest author.

This one sat on my shelves for some time, being all orange and vulgar and putting me right off. But, as I was moving house and realised the extent to which my library consisted of books I may or may not read but are loathe to throw out, I came to the conclusion that chance would have to play its part in the selection of the next book I read, rather than good old fashioned logic. So, when I opened my eyes, dizzy from spinning, and saw my finger pointing to this giant orange tome I was a bit perturbed. Nonetheless, I am as stubborn as I am ridiculous, so onto the train it came, and stuck into it I got.What I found was nothing like what I expected. Okay, that's not strictly true. I expected a cop thriller with twists and turns set in a Disney-esque theme park, and that's exactly what it is. What surprised me was the totally accomplished voice, the effortless creation of suspense and the verisimilitude of the two LA cops, Lomax and Biggs (composites from a million TV shows, but still good solid cop type fellows). This is good stuff, and I must admit I read it pretty much straight through, with only minor detours into the daily duties of a retail manager, and a quick stop for lunch. Great value for the money, and a groovy way to spend a day becoming myopic.

Down The Bright Way by Robert Reed

I am not ashamed.
This one almost slipped into an In-Betweeners review, harshly so, as it occurred in the space between Imperial Bedrooms and Houellebecq, but on reflection, I would be doing Reed and indeed science fiction a discourtesy by paying only cursory attention to what is in fact a rather good novel.

Sci-Fi - and its cousin Fantasy - too often gets a raw deal. If you can ignore far future science (or in the case of fantasy, magic) and strip back the improbable metallurgy and ample-chested warrior vixens, you will usually (although not always) find a story as engaging as any in the realms of literary, mass market or any other fiction sub-genre. Plus, you get improbable metallurgy and ample-chested warrior vixens. What's not to love? Lack of realism? What about Garcia Marquez, Rushdie and Allende and their brand of magical realism, which is surely as difficult to believe as a woman who is over a million years old in a far-future multi-dimensional universe? Unknown science used to be labelled as magic after all, and who knows what the future may hold for an enquiring species such as ours.

Back to Reed specifically, and although not his strongest book in terms of readability (Marrow certainly tops the pile), Down The Bright Way is a perfectly plotted, thoughtfully composed story of benevolent humanoid races crossing dimensional barriers by the use of a pathway created (or not) by advanced but now absent and presumed benevolent "makers" to spread peace, bestow gentle technological advances, and attempt to track down those who may (or may not) have seeded humanity throughout the various universes. What this boils down to in reality is the story of a young man who wants to be something other than himself, a young girl whose youthful naivety bestows a furious curiosity, a man unsure of his own purpose and an old woman whose firmly held beliefs are tested in the face of compelling reasons to doubt them. Chuck in an errant sociopath and his loyal super-human sidekick and you've got a potent mix for cooking up a multi-stranded narrative that whizzes across space and time and, long boring passages inside the space-time-continuum-traversing device aside, keeps the interest high through 350 pages.

Iain M. Banks may sit smugly at the peak of space opera for the time being, but should Reed continue to impress (and could ramp up his productivity* without damaging his story-telling integrity) then he should be a worthy challenger to Banks' superiority. If you're not a genre fan, but are intrigued, I would advise just giving it a shot. What have you got to lose? Just read it at home where no-one can see you. I jest of course...

*Editor's note: Having researched Bob Reed a little more thoroughly of late (April 2013) it appears he is after all as productive as a bad cough, having written squillions of things over the years. A Billion Eves is a Hugo Award winning short story for example. Just so it looks like I've read it...

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

Predictable descent into
violence aside...
It's odd, but I think I've fallen out with Mr Ellis. Its not immediately apparent to me why (with luck I shall endeavour to extract said reason during the course of this exorcism), but I felt defeated by Imperial Bedrooms, in a way not unlike having shouted and begged and pleaded for a new toy only to find out that it's not really made of titanium and the wiggly bit that controls its movement falls off after only an hour. This in itself is odd, as I have been a loyal(ish) supporter of his work over a number of years. 

Okay, possible reason number one has just presented itself: I fondly recall being delighted by American Psycho, its visceral, gore soaked and thoroughly sociopathic pages were so entertaining that I was happy to skip over the passages about Phil Collins without feeling as though I had missed anything important. In doing so, I am content to admit that this means I did indeed miss out on some aspects of the the duality of the narrator to the extent that I cared not for his tortured sense that something should be done to stop him, that his frequent sweats and panics went unnoticed by peers and colleagues too absorbed in themselves and thus disengaged with any sense of community, a state of affairs fostered by the prevailing attitudes of this particular stratum and which allows such monstrosities to exist unchallenged. Plus I missed out on any mind-polluting praise of Phil Collins. So in context it is fair to say that any defence of Ellis' work is based on a half-reading of one of his books. For that is all that I have read, prior to this. I used to love pretending I'd read Glamorana or The Informers, but I'd already conceded that I would never read either of them, now that the time so to do had passed, and was not really planning to read this either. The sudden spate of showings of The Informers on TV (real or imagined) goaded an inner guilt about once again owning and never reading a book by any author, deservedly or not, into squinting along the shelves to pick it out, brush off the mildew, and open the slightly crinkly pages.

Thus, so it was that I was introduced to a group of characters of which I had no prior knowledge despite the setting (it's some years after the first book, whichever one that was, and the narrator - Clay? - is picking up the story after his book, the book first written X years past, was published etc and so bored blah) and in whom I had not previously invested any readerly emotion. Whether that makes a difference or not is open for debate (amongst yourselves), but to me it was already a drawback. Added to the setting - decadent and overly medicated Hollywood of the 80s? 90s? 00s? 10s? - which has become a tired and over used trope for all sorts of tired and over used allusion and allegory, and I was halfway to Boresville before we'd even begun. 

What a shocking twat I am though, to lay such jaded prejudice against a book so ill equipped to defend itself. Let the inner optimist shine through with some justifiable praise to offset the ill will and thus balance the score sheet.

No? Why not? Oh, because it's shit. I see.

Okay, it's not shit. It's just not very interesting, and Ellis of course runs full force into some extreme sexualised violence towards the end because he can and perhaps because it's expected of him, which somehow cheapens what is already a pretty cheap book. What a bitch. Anyway, the plot is turgid, the characters uninteresting (to me), the unreliable narrator predictable, the use of drugs and alcohol dulling only the mind of the reader and any sense of tension or drama leached away like the minerals from the bones of an opium addict by not really caring what happens or has happened. I am glad I've read it though, odd as that may seem. Not having read it would be like not having watched Hobo with a Shotgun - unthinkable, like missing a rite of passage or not having another piece of cake. 

So in conclusion, I have discovered that it was not quite such a mystery that I didn't like this book, and in fact I was suffering from a delusion of sorts that I liked Ellis as a writer from the start. I don't. I followed his tweets for a very little while. I didn't like them. So I stopped.