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Showing posts from June, 2015

The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas

I was blown away when novelist and Twitterer Scarlett Thomas invited me to Islington for the launch of this, her new novel, and then, after citing the obligations of parenthood, to send me a free copy of the book. And all for simply being aware of William Gibson! I knew science fiction wasn't a waste of time. So of course I'm trepidatious about appearing ungrateful, or of hurting her no doubt battle-hardened but nonetheless ever present feelings when I say I'm not sure I understand this novel. 

To perform a customary synopsis, we begin with the death of Great Aunt Oleander, owner of the Namaste House retreat and matriarch of a rangy spread of Gardeners (capital G to indicate proper noun) who, whimsically, are also botanists. The news is greeted by family friend and Oleander's protege Fleur, gently supping an opiate-spiked tea, with in retrospect the  amusing salute, "Oleander is dead. Long live Oleander."
From this tangles the off-shoots of familial introductio…

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon by Crystal Zevon

I suspect that, among other reasons why I, a sleepy, suburban, middle collar white class schmuck, stumbled across the music of L.A. hell-raiser Warren Zevon, and felt moved both to purchase his biography and champion his music to friends whose good graces I courted, sheepishly, was that I used to buy* and read** Uncut Magazine religiously, in whose pages Zevon made appearances around the time of his untimely, but some might say overdue, death in September 2003. It was certainly the case that I bought the Genius: The Best Of Warren Zevon cd  (in 2004 and again in 2008 because of good natured misappropriation of the first by the aforementioned friend) because of an article they published on The Wind, November 2004. From what I knew of him before that point, I might well have been taking a punt on a cd of glam rock, New York anti-folk, or angsty navel-gazing singer-songwriter smugness. In retrospect, I'm pleased I took the risk, even if it was only to look well-informed. Certainly, h…

Kleinzeit by Russell Hoban

Kleinzeit–German for 'small time', not, as Kleinzeit himself would have us believe, 'hero'–is a sick man. With pains shooting from A to B, an acute hypotenuse, and something up with his diapason, he's dying from the disease of life. Hospital, heckling and arrogant, reassures him he'll soon be cured of it, forever. In the meantime, he's fired for writing a man pushing a barrow of rocks, falls in love with a ward sister, Sister, purchases a glockenspiel with which he busks in the underground, and despite 'heroic' attempts to discharge himself from the crowing, anthropomorphised institution, finds that Death keeps tricking him into relapses, in between which he discovers a sinister plot hatched by yellow A4 paper to enslave him and cuckold him with Word.

In an odd way, this short novel feels like an episode inside the head of Leonard Rossiter. A healthy man feels a mystery pain, checks himself into hospital and quickly unravels. But he also looks for a …

The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

Yeah, yeah, I know. Where's the review, eh? Well, don't let me disappoint you. I'm not planning to write a review of this one. In fact, I'm unlikely ever to write a review of it. This is partly because I plan to keep re-reading it in perpetuity until I understand it completely. Of course, there have been numerous famous faces who rubbished the Disney-esque narrative theories of Campell, but in truth, I can't help but love this book, even if I can't help but misunderestimate it. It's fab. It has a permanent home on the shelf next to my bed, along with Michel de Montaigne, the collected stories of Angela Carter, and William Hjortsberg's biography of Richard Brautigan.








The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill

It might be twelve years since I first read this novel, drawn to it as I was at the time by the obvious and, I thought before reading it, gimcrack gimmick of having a mythical beast as the protagonist in a story about love, loss, rage, impotence, hope in the dust-bowl of Raymond Carver’s middle America. I picked it up again recently because of the confluence of two events – one, I found my first naive review of it in a stack of old clippings from a newspaper for which I wrote nearly ten years ago, and two, because of the unexpected loss of my friend’s brother, a man who despite his own issues, once pushed me to explore new horizons (both personal and chemical) and whose favourite novel, he told me in 2007, paraphrasing the microcosmic line “Maybe he sleeps, maybe he doesn’t”, was this very book.
It feels a very American novel, if I can put it thus and betray my own prejudices, given it borrows from European myth (M is not alone – there’s a nymph working in a truck stop, playing Ms Pacm…

Mr g: A Novel About The Creation by Alan Lightman

On days when I'm feeling blue, under-appreciated, unmotivated, or lacking all the things I feel I should, by now, as a middle class WASP in his mid- to late-thirties, have accrued or achieved in order to make my mark on the world, I will think back to this novel and smile, wafting away such cares as I would a midge or the smoke of a barbecue on a summer's day. Whether you believe it to be a plausible history of The Creation or not, the story of a universe, possibly our own, has never before been presented to me in such a tactile, understandable way, and as such, I am absolutely delighted with this novel. If you ever wanted to feel small, insignificant, infinitesimal, but at the same time be totally uplifted, transcendental, and filled with the borrowed wisdom of someone with such a grasp on existential matters, then I urge you to pick this up post-haste.

On to the story, and from within a shapeless and formless void, three unknowable, infinite and immortal entities exist outsid…