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A Tan And Sandy Silence, and The Long Lavender Look by John D McDonald

Much of a muchness 1
Travis McGee novels are all uniformly rather good; entertaining narratives, jovial floridity, good-old-fashioned misogyny, guns, birds, boats and booze. Sadly, when read one after the other, this means that such trivial little things as plots get hard to differentiate from each other. My mistake therefore has been to read these two contiguously with no other literary diversion in between, as I can now no longer remember what happens in each. For those who like that sort of thing, I will attempt a limited, non-spoiling plot summary but, understandably, this may become confused and disorientating, so be warned. One thing I will say before I begin such a fool’s errand is that contrary to my opening statement, the previous Trav narrative I read, which may or may not have been Dress Her In Indigo, was disappointing, and these two novels represent a welcome return to a more polished form of gruff and chivalric silliness.

Much of a muchness 2

Travis runs his big daft car off the road after nearly killing a half-naked lady whose husband comes aboard his boat to shoot him for stealing his wife from him even though she’s dead and a girl whose family are inbred weirdoes but whose brother is a Canadian tennis, skiing and law prodigy and also a psycho is impersonating her on a Caribbean island resort and bonking a sailor who is no match for Trav’s wily masculinity. Somewhere here the hirsute Meyer makes several appearances and gets bonked on the head / kidnapped before someone gets tar poured on them and dumped in a sinkhole. There’re some overly metaphorical sex scenes and Trav worries he’s losing his edge before realising a healthy respect for death and the limitations of one’s body and mind contribute to keeping one alive. Cue the drinking of Plymouth Gin.

There are several notable and perhaps laudable things about the writing of John D MacDonald. Not least amongst them is his resistance to foul language – nary an S or F word to be found, and definitely no C-bombs – but also his reluctance to mention Vietnam, something that was probably at the forefront on the public consciousness at the time of writing (that and Capitalism).  Ecological concerns also get an occasional look-in, with musings on the consequences of the human stain. Violence is purely technical (how to chop someone’s Adam’s apple, how best to roll to avoid a left-handed shooter etc.) or described for the horrific brutality (including rare sexual violence but also casual slaps of the missus to keep her in line). And it’s all done with such rare elegance of language that it only ever feels dated when he overlooks logging-in to Facebook to check incriminating photographs or how someone’s identity holds up under scrutiny. I may be derisive in tone and content, but I do genuinely enjoy his novels, so much so that I dismantled a wedding breakfast centre-piece to steal a hard-back version of one of his 1959 hard-boiled novels A Deadly Welcome. If you’re after a better endorsement, consider this, from Kurt Vonnegut Jnr (who died this day – or maybe yesterday – back in 2007):
“To diggers a thousand years from now . . . the works of John D. MacDonald would be a treasure on the order of the tomb of Tutankhamen.”

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A Death In The Family: My Struggle Volume 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I sit here, wearing my limited edition Knausgaard t-shirt, immensely grateful to the kind people at Vintage Books for their surprising gift of the first four novels (and aforementioned t-shirt) simply as a result of being able to post a comment on their YouTube Vlog. There may have been a hidden agenda, considering I'm a book blogger (What, interrobang, a book blogger, interrobang and so on...) but I prefer to believe they picked me at random. Because I'm ace. 
Nonetheless, I had no idea what to expect of these books. I did do a little reading, and found lots of very interesting articles about Karl Ove Knausgaard, including this entertaining one in the Wall Street Journal. But in all honesty, nothing prepared me for reading them, and I can see why they cause controversy and consternation wherever they are translated (which is pretty much everywhere).
First off, being intelligent and perspicacious readers as I trust you all to be, you will no doubt have spotted the whole Godwin&#…

A Bright Moon For Fools by Jasper Gibson

Ah, what would be a review penned by yours truly without some sort of grovelling apology at the outset? A better review no doubt, but that aside I can't help but continue the tiresome tradition with an apology. Sorry to my regular robotic readers (hi bots!) but I have been very neglectful of the blog of late, having been tied up with my pursuit of a broader spectrum of dilettantism; I've been taking part in a number of MOOCs offered by various HEIs on the FutureLearn platform. Worth checking out if you ask me.

(Subtle enough plug, you think?)
Anyway, the break afforded by a foray into further education has proved something of a test for Jasper Gibson and his fiction. In truth, it took me a little while to remember what exactly the novel was about, who was in it, and how I felt about the whole thing. Instant alarm bells. Of course, having had a break, I'd had a good crack at filling my head with a whole bunch of other things worth remembering, so maybe it all just got squeeze…

Open Door by Iosi Havilio

*Shame Klaxon*
I am ashamed to admit it but I know next to nothing about Borges. I know the names of his books. I know he crops up almost without fail when conversations include literature from South America. I know his words book-end so many novels that I have that habitual proving-my-bold-assertion-mind-blankness which means my brain knows it to be true and won't humour your scepticism with an example*. And I know it's likely the biggest single lacuna in my entire reading history**.
So you may imagine my lack of surprise, on finishing this novel and reading the afterword by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, lecturer at Birkbeck College, London, and author of works on the history and politics of Latin America, that Borges pops up, within three lines of text. Three lines! He wastes no time does Oscar. Of course, my shame bristled and I was ready to adopt the usual casual hostility to something of which I was ignorant. But straight away, I understood what he was saying. I have often consid…

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; …